Will The Media Let Congress Forget About The Gulf Oil Disaster?

Source: NOAAFollowing a lengthy investigation, the national Oil Spill Commission concluded in January 2011 that “the root causes” of the BP disaster were “systematic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.” This week the same panel of experts found that Congress “has yet to enact any legislation responding to the explosion and spill.” Rather than implement the panel's recommendations, the House has actually “passed several bills” with provisions that “run contrary to what the Commission concluded was essential for safe, prudent, responsible development of offshore oil resources,” said the commissioners.

So far ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox News have ignored the panel's assessment report, issued just days before the second anniversary of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan was the exception, running a segment on the panel's findings and the ongoing impacts of the spill.

The panel recommended, among other things, that Congress create a program to collect fees from the offshore drilling industry to ensure adequate funding for “effective regulatory operations” and raise the cap on the liability a company has for a spill, which is currently set “much lower than the costs likely to be incurred today” at $75 million. As these actions have not been taken, a spill “might well recur” and it is likely that another company might not have the same resources or willingness to waive the liability cap.

Yet in much of the media coverage of drilling, it's as if the BP spill never occurred. Not only is the dearth of reform since the spill typically left unmentioned even as drilling surges, but some coverage of offshore drilling actually entirely ignores safety concerns. This was evident when Fox Business' Gerri Willis asked Rep. Cliff Stearns to respond to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's criticism of Congressional inaction. Stearns' response exemplified the typical treatment of the spill: he said we “want to continue to permit” drilling in the Gulf without any mention of changes needed to prevent a future spill, and he obscured the lasting consequences of the disaster, saying that BP had “agreed to clean up” and “business has returned there.”

In reality, the damage to the Gulf is ongoing. As the New York Times recently noted, “The toll on the gulf and its marine life may not be known for years. The herring population of Alaska's Prince William Sound did not crash until three years after the Exxon Valdez spill.” As we further our understanding of the lasting effects the spill has on wildlife, seafood and jobs, the media should not only report on the developments but also incorporate the findings into its political coverage. The public is listening.