Robert Redford: The Fix- Dirty Energy’s Undue Influence on American Political Life

Robert Redford is an actor, director, environmental activist and longtime trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council. This summer he created an online video — The Fix — about the Gulf disaster, the political clout of Big Oil and the urgent need for clean energy legislation.

Like most Americans, I’ve been horrified by the unending catas­trophe in the Gulf of Mexico. As I try to convey in The Fix, I am appalled by what this spill is doing to Gulf fishermen, families, communities and wildlife. But I am also disgusted by what it reveals about the oil industry’s role in American political life. With their deep pockets, oil companies have purchased loose safety regulations, slack oversight and support from key lawmakers. Last year alone, the industry spent $168 million on lobbying — $16 million of which came from BP. The blowout on the Deepwater Horizon is a symptom of that undue influence.

It is time for the collusion to stop. As long as it continues, Americans will pay the price in the form of devastated ecosystems and a fossil fuel addiction that benefits oil companies, not ordinary citizens. We’ve seen massive spills on a regular basis for decades: Santa Barbara, 1969 (marring 35 miles of coastline and polluting rich marine environments); Brittany, 1978 (67 million gallons, polluting 200 miles of coastline); the Exxon Valdez, 1989 (spilling 10.8 million gallons and polluting 1,100 miles of Alaskan coastline). In some places we’re still cleaning up oil that spilled decades ago. So there is a context for what has happened in the Gulf of Mexico. History provides it for us. But one thing I don’t believe Americans want is to keep repeating it.

I know what it’s like to have a job that depends on towing the line. I worked in the oil fields when I was a teenager, and my dad worked in the accounting department of Standard Oil. I remember the uneasy feeling that resulted when I heard company representatives claim that oil exploration was great for American society, yet that contrasted with what I was actually experiencing on the job. The truth was that oil exploration was great for the oil industry.

Long after I left the oil fields, I felt outraged by the way oil companies advertised them­selves as conservationists. BP plugged itself as “Beyond Petroleum,” yet oil still accounts for the vast majority of its business. BP claimed its technology was safe, yet 11 men are dead and oil still permeates the whole Gulf coast. Further­more, the company has a long history of safety vio­lations that have resulted in other deaths and environmental destruc­tion. BP also said in 2008 it could handle a spill ten times the size of the current disaster, yet its attempts to end the gushing in the Gulf failed for months.

We need to stop buying into these fictions, and the BP spill is our reality check — a reminder that the oil industry looks out for Number One in the Gulf, in the Arctic and in Washington. Recently, President Obama announced several measures that will rein in Big Oil’s influence. He strengthened regulations governing offshore operations and called on the Justice Department to examine BP’s role in this fiasco. He also imposed a moratorium on new offshore drilling while a commission investigates the spill. And although I welcome the president’s initial steps, some of these measures need to be stronger.

Even as oil was pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, advocates of oil drilling were telling us this disaster should not deter more offshore drilling. We either learn from our mistakes or we keep repeating them. Unfortunately, we seem to have learned very little over the last 40 years about the risks of offshore oil drilling, and we keep repeating the mistake. But if there were ever a time to learn from a disaster and make better choices going forward, this is it. Congress needs to seize this moment and pass clean energy legislation that will once and for all get us on a path away from fossil fuels. We still get our energy the way cavemen did: by setting things on fire. We need to create high-tech, twenty-first-century jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy. We need to do that for the sake of our environment and for the sake of our economy, as well as the safety of our workers.

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~ by FSVSF Admin on 12 October, 2010.

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