The BP Blowout and the Social and Environmental Erosion of the Louisiana Coast
28 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2011
Date Written: January 14, 2011
The BP Oil Spill was yet another blow to already threatened human and biological communities. It would be hard to think of a more challenging venue for addressing environmental problems. The mix of problems is forbidding, including rapidly eroding wetlands, climate change, endangered species, and a gigantic aquatic dead zone. These problems have mostly been the subject of not-so-benign neglect, akin to the regulatory neglect that cumulated in the disastrous BP Oil Spill.
The political problems are also daunting. Five states border the Gulf, of which two are among the nation’s poorest and least environmentally sensitive. Another thirty states contribute to the hypoxia problem. The oil industry has been a major contributor to the problems and exercises great political clout in the region and nationally. In short, the term “collective action problem” does not begin to explain the economic and political complexities.
The BP Oil Spill itself may indirectly assist in improving the situation. Through cy pres settlements, voluntary payments by BP, and perhaps civil penalties, the spill may provide funding to strengthen the institutional and scientific foundation for environmental regulation. The spill has already helped strengthen NEPA in its application to offshore oil and gas projects, and it could help revitalize CZMA.
The Gulf’s problems are a preview of the difficulties we are likely to face in this century, with eroding coasts and wetlands and ecological disruption threatening coastal communities and their livelihoods. By beginning to focus on the problems of the Gulf, we will obtain valuable expertise with applications in other parts of the United States and in places around the world.
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