As I observed recently at TNN, it was a large oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, about a week after Richard Nixon was inaugurated in 1969, that focused the nation’s attention on pollution and ecology in a dramatic fashion, and helped spur the movement that led to the first Earth Day and the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency the following year.
This week, the disaster that released enormous quantities of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, near southeastern Louisiana, is threatening the fishing and shrimping industries of five states. This has been the big story, at a time when the Gulf region, like the rest of America, is trying to get on the road to economic recovery. But the environmental aspect also looms large, as Lisa Margonelli of the New America Foundation points out in the New York Times:

Oil, however, is too complicated for simple solutions. Whether this spill turns out to be the result of a freakish accident or a cascade of negligence, the likely political outcome will be a moratorium on offshore drilling. Emotionally, I love this idea. Who wants an oil drill in his park or on his coastline? Who doesn’t want to punish Big Oil on behalf of the birds?

Moratoriums have a moral problem, though. All oil comes from someone’s backyard, and when we don’t reduce the amount of oil we consume, and refuse to drill at home, we end up getting people to drill for us in Kazakhstan, Angola and Nigeria — places without America’s strong environmental safeguards or the resources to enforce them.