The Producerist Politics Of Energy

NASA photo of Gulf oil slick, May 9

Kate Sheppard lists 10 reasons to still be pissed off about the Gulf Oil Spill. My favorites:

2. People are sick. Nearly three-quarters of Gulf coast residents that the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental justice group, polled this year reported health concerns that they believe are related to the spill. Of the 954 residents in seven coastal communities, almost half said they had experienced health problems like coughing, skin and eye irritation, or headaches that are consistent with common symptoms of chemical exposure. While the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is conducting health monitoring for spill cleanup workers, residents in the areas closest to the spill are concerned that their own health problems have gone unattended.

3. Fish and other sea life in the Gulf are still struggling after the disaster. The death toll for dolphins and whales in the Gulf may have been 50 times higher than the number of bodies found, according to a recent paper in Conservation Letters. Earlier this year, a large number of dead dolphin calves were found on the coast, and scientists have linked many of those deaths to the oil disaster. Anglers are also reporting dark lesions, rotting fins, and discoloration in the fish they’re catching in the Gulf, as the St. Petersburg Times reported last week.

What I think is interesting about this is that the harms are so localized, even while the benefits of increased fossil fuel production in terms of lower consumer prices are extremely diffuse. And yet the offshore drilling issue isn’t at all a NIMBY question where Gulf Coast politicians oppose it while far-away people want to get our hands on gas and oil. Which just goes to show how dominated energy politics are by producer interests. The places where coal is mined are home to the politicians that advocate for coal mining, the places where oil is drilled are home to the politicians that advocate for oil drilling, etc. And that’s true even though a lot of the downside of these activities is concentrated in those very same places.