Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hurricane Isaac, Oil in the Gulf, and Election Year Energy Debates

My parents live in New Orleans (and my brother was originally supposed to get married there the weekend after Katrina), so I was particularly focused on Hurricane Isaac bearing down on New Orleans last week on the Katrina's 7th anniversary.  I was both relieved that it was much less catastrophic and concerned about the many impacts it brought.  One of those impacts highlights the interconnection between our choices around fossil fuels and the complexities of disaster preparedness as our climate changes. 

As was widely reported, one of Hurricane Isaac's most significant environmental impacts was the reappearance of oil leftover from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill.  While as BP points out, it is hard to know exactly how much of the oil is from the spill rather than other sources, some of it likely is.  That oil serves as a potent reminder of the long-term human and ecological risks we face when we fail to manage the risks of unconvention fuel extraction adequately. 

That reemergence of oil also illuminates the importance of focusing on climate change adaptation even as we mitigate to limit its impacts.  While it is difficult to link particular severe storms to climate change, our risks of such events increase with climate change.  Hurricane Isaac highlights that we need to be ready at our coastlines for these storms and what they may unearth--the good news, despite the losses experienced by many in this hurricane, is that New Orleans learned from its Katrina experience and was much better prepared than seven years ago.  We need to keep learning and preparing (there are already commentaries on what New Orleans still needs to work on based on the Hurricane Isaac experience), and also try to make proactive decisions to limit risks.

The hurricane and the reappearance of oil take place against the backdrop of our four year ritual of partisan political conventions, made all the more dramatic by the Republican Party's choice to put its convention in Tampa during hurricane season, which resulted in disruptions from a storm looming on Katrina's anniversary.  What makes me sad about our national energy debate (and debates on many other issues) is that there is so much that both parties should agree upon, and so little interconnection of individual hot button issues and federalism debates into the energy system as a whole, something that's been a focus of mine lately in a new project with Hannah Wiseman.  Most pressing energy challenges--from managing the risks of deepwater drilling or hydraulic fracturing to updating our aging electricity grid and adding needed transmission lines--require us to think in innovative ways about how our fragmented, multi-level regulatory structures could be more effective in getting the job done.  I hope, even if it's in quiet ways outside of the public attention directed to election year disagreements, we can find our shared values and make space for complicated, holistic, out-of the box thinking. 

Hari Osofsky

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/environmental_law/2012/09/hurricane-isaac-oil-in-the-gulf-and-election-year-energy-debates.html

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