Our guest blogger is Kiley Kroh, Associate Director for Ocean Communications at the Center for American Progress.
When foreign oil giant Shell announced plans to begin drilling in the Arctic Ocean next year, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh responded by promoting a months-old Environmental Protection Agency ruling that delayed Shell’s risky offshore drilling. The right-wing media machine is trying to demonize the EPA for halting domestic energy production:
Shell Oil Company has announced it must scrap efforts to drill for oil this summer in the Arctic Ocean off the northern coast of Alaska. The decision comes following a ruling by the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board to withhold critical air permits. The move has angered some in Congress and triggered a flurry of legislation aimed at stripping the EPA of its oil drilling oversight.
What Fox didn’t tell you is the EPA actually granted Shell the necessary permits last year. It was local Alaska residents, concerned about the health of their families, who challenged the decision for not fully analyzing and disclosing the risks and potential impacts. Upon review, the federal Environmental Appeals Board determined the initial air quality assessment had been too narrow. Once a full assessment was completed, the Board concluded that the amount of toxic pollutants emitted by the project posed too great a threat to the health of coastal communities and a fragile ecosystem.
The real story here is not the EPA standing in the way of Big Oil’s profit margin, rather it’s the fact that in making its initial ruling, the EPA was too quick to kowtow to the foreign fat cats at the expense of hundreds of Americans who also happen to be native Alaskans. Local resident Rosemary Ahtuangaruak recently testified against House legislation to eliminate air quality reviews for offshore drilling:
If you allow this bill to move forward, you are telling me and everyone who lives in the Arctic that we — proud Inupiats and Americans — are less important than a few foreign-owned oil companies like Shell Oil.
And air pollution is only the beginning. Just one year after the worst environmental disaster in US history, Shell insists it will be prepared to handle a worst-case spill — a claim the Anchorage Daily News, for one, finds dubious:
With no roads connecting remote coastal towns, storms and fog that can ground aircraft, no deepwater ports for ships and the nearest Coast Guard station about 1,000 miles away — it would be almost impossible to respond on the scale that was needed last year to stop the runaway oil well and clean up the mess.
Twenty-foot swells, subzero temperatures and a lack of infrastructure make a spill of any size more likely and nearly impossible to clean up — conditions that were ignored in Shell’s safety plan.