That was the subject of the “point-counterpoint” on the AJC opinion page the other morning. The “counterpoint”—on the bottom of the page—was a piece by Karen Grainey, chair of the Coastal Group of the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club. Sierra’s agenda is clear, and Grainey represented it in a plea on behalf of the beauty, ecological richness, and economic value of Georgia’s coastal marshlands.
Her worry is that the Obama administration has given the go-ahead to seismic exploration along the Atlantic coast, and the oil companies are lining up for the leases. Grainey doesn’t want oil derricks off Georgia’s coast. She remembers that the herring fishery in Prince William Sound never recovered from the Exxon Valdez spill, and she doubts that we’re anywhere near assessing the ecological damage to the Gulf of Mexico from the 2010 BP catastrophe. She hopes Obama will put on the brakes, decide not to grant the drilling leases after all, and focus instead on developing green power.
In other words, Grainey was saying exactly what all of us reasonable and thoughtful people say here in the early decades of the 21st century: that the earth matters, and that we need to stop trashing it.
Hard as it is to believe, though, there is another way to look at things. The column on top of the page, “Protect nature, fill gas tanks,” illuminates this dark ideological terrain. Anastasia Swearingen, identified as a senior research analyst at something called the Environmental Policy Alliance (which is part of something called the Center for Organizational Research and Education), is pleased to confirm that all this relief we’ve been feeling at the gas pump is in fact a direct result of a “great boom in oil production” here in the U.S. And guess what? “Families could save even more money if the federal government wasn’t standing in the way.”
The U.S. holds “vast energy resources” in the Atlantic, but that infernal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management refuses to lease them. “The feds ought to open the spigot,” writes Swearingen, then spouts the predictable economic benefits: billions in “added economic value”—whatever that means—not to mention tax revenues and, of course, jobs.* Even figuring in the potential costs of the downside—ecological damage, oil-spill clean-up, increased carbon emissions—the benefits of exploring the Atlantic “exceed costs by 3 to 1.” Three to one? Wow. End of argument.
If any further reassurance were needed, Swearingen reminds us that “major oil spills are incredibly rare” and “the ability to clean up after tragic spills has improved immensely.” Just look at the Gulf, she says, where pessimists predicted an “uninhabitable wasteland.” But BP stepped up—hurray!—and “devoted dollars and man hours to Gulf restoration.” Today the Gulf is faring “better than expected by most accounts” and “permanent damage seems less likely.”
You’d swear it was a parody. But it’s not. A couple of clicks and you’ve discovered that the blandly titled Center for Organizational Research and Education is basically a PR firm representing big business and that the ironically titled Environmental Policy Alliance (EPA) is the Center’s pro-extraction, anti-environment wing. A trip to the EPA website, which describes the organization as "devoted to uncovering the funding and hidden agendas behind environmental activist groups," will confirm everything you suspect about this strange antiworld.
What is its appeal, anyway, except those who sit in the luxurious lap of Big Oil? That’s the mystery to me. Here on the same page of the paper are these two smart young people, one following the path of light and reason, the other fallen by the wayside, thrashing in the weeds of prevarication and hypocrisy. How does it happen? It’s like when poor and marginalized people vote Republican. You want to stand up and holler, Hey! Stop! Those people do not represent your interests!
I’m always hopeful that today’s young people are going to do a better job than their parents did of figuring out what’s what, and, particularly, who’s for ‘em and who’s agin’ ‘em. But then there’s Swearingen, working for that tired old man.
I’m hollering. I’m waving. Anastasia . . . Anastasia . . . You’re still young . . . It’s not too late. . .