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Orange County’s Oil Spill Catastrophe, the Consequences of Complacency


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Last weekend, an oil spill plagued Orange County beaches with the putrid smell of diesel, dead animals, and stained water. As a result, already endangered ecosystems are under threat and beach closures may last for months. The environmental damage is not only symbolic of how dangerous the extraction of fossil fuels is but how our world will look under the devastation of climate change.

The offshore oil platforms that stand as a stain on the beautiful Huntington Beach coast have unleashed a preventable disaster upon our community — and certain elected representatives are largely to blame.

This recent Huntington Beach spill is not the first time crude oil has invaded Southern California’s coasts. Just six years ago, the smaller Refugio spill near Santa Barbara destroyed one of the most biologically diverse coastlines on the entire west coast, costing over $69 million to clean. Unfortunately, little has since been done despite the devastating impact offshore drilling has had in the communities in which they operate.

Congresswoman Michelle Steele, who represents California’s 48th Congressional district, which makes up a large portion of Orange County, has written a letter to President Biden asking for Federal support. However, as concerned as Congresswoman Steele portrays herself to be about energy prices and how tax-payer money is spent, she has done little to advocate for policies that would have prevented this catastrophe from occurring in the first place. As a result, tax-payers now find themselves subsidizing a multimillion dollar oil clean-up and billions of dollars in relief funds for other natural disasters that have been intensified by climate change.

The “Energy and Environment” page of Ms. Steele’s website, which ironically features a picture of an oil rig in front of a golden sunset, claims that “we must support a free-market approach to encourage innovations that will keep energy prices from skyrocketing.” In reality, it was too much of the “free-market” and too little government intervention that is responsible for the oil spill. The owner of the pipeline that stained our coast has been cited for dozens of safety and environmental violations. If existing government regulations are too lenient in preventing pipeline and offshore oil rig owners from engaging in unsafe and potentially disastrous cost-cutting practices, imagine the damage that would be done in a “free-market” system free of any government oversight.

On Ms. Steele’s campaign website, she proudly presents her endorsement from Winning for Women, an organization dedicated to growing right-of-center female leadership in Washington D.C. Their executive director, Rebecca Schuller, praised her for “fight[ing] against extreme liberal policies like… the Green New Deal.The “extreme liberal policy” Ms. Schuller is referring to advocates for a complete ban on offshore drilling, a policy that would have prevented Orange County’s oil spill and future spills forever.

Representatives like Congresswoman Steele will portray the necessary solutions to climate change as ideologically charged, extreme, or expensive. This further enables the fossil fuel industry to destroy the very communities they swore to preserve and protect. While Ms. Steele continues to dodge the question on whether she still supports offshoring oil drilling or not, former Congressman Harley Rouda has already visited the spill site and is calling for an end to all offshore drilling on federal lands.

The reality is that there is no safe or cheap use of fossil fuels. Costly, environment-destroying oil spills are a natural consequence of risky practices such as offshore drilling. Even if such mishaps never occurred, the usage of fossil fuels is quickly driving us to the verge of a worldwide and local disaster. It is estimated that if the world does not turn away from fossil fuels by 2040, the earth will face temperature increases that will lead to catastrophic consequences for our environment.

Without an adequate solution, increasing temperatures will give rise to higher sea levels which will put all coastal cities at an extreme risk of flooding. The flooding that took place in Newport Beach during the Fourth of July last year will only be a taste of what is to come if we do not take proper action as a community to halt climate change. This is not even beginning to consider the worldwide effect climate change would have on our environment, economy, and political institutions.

Prevention is always easier, cheaper, and more effective than treatment. The fight against fossil fuels and climate change cannot be a lonely one. We must connect with our community and demand that our representatives implement the necessary changes needed to create better lives for ourselves and future generations. As residents of Orange County, we have repeatedly witnessed how we are directly subjected to the consequences of climate change and fossil fuel extraction.

Now is the time to use our democratic power to prevent such catastrophes from ever happening again.

Damian Nastic lives in Huntington Beach, California where he attends Golden West College. He writes for his own blog at illusionofdemocracy.com and is involved in student government, community tutoring, and the AGS Honor Society.

Opinions expressed in community opinion pieces belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please email opinions@voiceofoc.org.

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