Trump forgets Deepwater Horizon
As if Deepwater Horizon never happened.
Never mind 11 dead oil rig workers. Forget the 87 days that oil spewed unabated from a ruptured wellhead 5000 feet below the surface. Forget the 22-mile plume of oil and chemical dispersants, drifting like a toxic cloud in the Gulf of Mexico, creating incalculable damage to marine life and coast marshlands.
Well, not incalculable. Virginia Tech economists assessed the value the public placed on the various forms of marine life wiped out by the 2010 disaster and came up with $17.2 billion. That’s aside from billions lost to the fishing and tourism economies. Or the $61 billion BP paid out in fines and clean-up costs and reparations for business losses.
Never mind the health consequences, including chronic respiratory difficulties, suffered by clean-up workers and residents in the coastal areas where that strange red gook washed ashore. Some 12 million pounds were removed from beaches and tidal marshes along the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts.
Yet, the Trump administration, as part of its anti-regulatory frenzy, has decided that the worst oil spill in the nation’s history was not worth remembering. The Interior Department is discarding the offshore drilling rig safety regulations adopted after Deepwater Horizon to prevent another such blow-out. Meanwhile, rather than wait for the cumbersome process it takes to undo federal regs, Politico reported last week that Interior has jumped ahead and issued an extraordinary
1,679 exemptions to the safety rules.
Most of the exemptions allowed offshore drilling companies to bypass regulations that tighten the maintenance and testing requirements for the so-called “blowout preventers” that automatically cap a wellhead in case of a rupture. Of course, the blowout preventer on Deepwater Horizon failed spectacularly.
It’s as if the disastrous aftermath hardly matters as the Trump administration erases regulations that fossil fuel operations find burdensome. Oil drillers want offshore drilling rules relaxed and Trump’s appointees are there to serve.
Regulation rollbacks have become the very essence of the Trump administration, almost by default after stumbling with other big initiatives, like the construction of his fabled wall or the nuclear disarmament of North Korea. According to the New York Times, the administration has targeted 78 environmental rules created to protect drinking water, control toxic industrial emissions, limit greenhouse gases and protect endangered species.
Trumps’ fevered anti-environmentalists have attacked regs governing the disposal of coal ash waste. And the arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, chromium and cadmium that steam power plants spew into the atmosphere. They’ve stopped enforcing the prohibition against using hydrofluorocarbons (a particularly potent greenhouse gas) in air-conditioners and refrigerators. They’ve undone rules that required states to monitor tailpipe exhaust emissions and oil refinery pollution.
Ironically, much of the environmental degradation fomented by Trump anti-regulatory regime will be borne by Trump country. For example, coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle – the very areas most at risk for another Deepwater Horizon – encompass some of Trump’s most fervent supporters.
It’s not the residents of liberal Broward County or Boston or New York or Los Angeles who need to worry about an unregulated coal ash pond next door or their children breathing in polluted air from a nearby chemical plant or strip miners spoiling the water. It’s not our workers who’ll be descending into coal mines or onto oil rigs where safety precautions are no longer a priority for federal inspectors.
Not that the regulation rollbacks aren’t painful hereabouts. South Florida was ground zero in the shameless for-profit college scandals that left thousands of would-be students with second-rate educations, deep in debt, facing dismal employment prospects. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has undone safeguards designed to protect students from the misleading and unscrupulous tactics employed by for-profits.
South Florida also has more than its share of endangered species, another genre that the Trump administration considers subsidiary to the wants of corporate America. And the Trump administration’s pretense that global warming and rising seas are liberal myths will surely leave us treading water.
Of course, coastal communities in Trumploving South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas and Alabama also face inundation. But folks in those places simply pretend otherwise. And they shrug off the EPA’s own findings that cessation of the pollution rules for power plants will lead to 11,000 premature deaths,
4,700 heart attacks, 2,800 new cases of chronic bronchitis, and 130,000 asthma attacks every year.
And if Trump’s supporters, between coughing fits, can pretend that Deepwater Horizon never happened, then why would they ever think to burden offshore drillers with inconvenient safety regs.
Fred Grimm (@grimm_fred or [email protected]), a longtime resident of Fort Lauderdale, has worked as a journalist in South Florida since 1976.