In years past, environmental catastrophes have helped environmental advocates win some of their biggest victories. In 1969, the Santa Barbara oil spill and images of a river on fire in Cleveland helped drive the passage of several anti-pollution laws. In 1989, the Exxon Valdez disaster helped spark a key clean-air law.
But this year, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, by far the biggest in US history, hasn’t had the same effect.
The Senate remains gridlocked on an energy bill. Public opinion has barely changed, and the demand for gasoline continues to surge.
It’s not that environmentalists aren’t trying. It’s just that they’re facing headwinds from a lousy economy, general mistrust of government and lingering suspicions from “Climategate,” which were sparked by since disproven allegations that environmental scientists were cooking their data to promote their views about global warming.
The dreadful economic tailspin has caused public officials and the public to back-off proposals that would lessen our dependence on fossil fuels, for example. Just 2 summers ago, gasoline cost $4-a-gallon, and millions cannot afford a return to such prices.
A related factor is the site of the oil spill. Louisiana residents, devastated by the calamity, have targeted BP rather than the oil industry itself, in part because the industry powers the state’s economy.
These issues are reflected in recent opinion polls which show that after the spill, only about 53% of people are concerned about climate change. That is unchanged from January, and down from 63% before the economy went south.
“It’s the short-term concerns overriding longer-term benefits” of greenhouse-gas laws, Ralph Izzo told the Washington Post. Izzo is CEO of the Public Service Enterprise Group, a New Jersey-based utility that supports carbon emission price control legislation.