Dispatches > News

Political spill

"Political spill" Continued...

Issue: "Face-off," Aug. 13, 2011

Johnson, the Montana State University professor, recalled that industries have worked with the environmental community in the past. When a timber company logged Mount Ellis, an 8,000-foot peak near Bozeman, the company consulted with community and environmental groups and logged in a way that protected the "viewshed," or its scenic beauty, he said.

The broken Exxon pipeline appears to have complied with current regulations, which require pipelines to be buried five feet under a river. Exxon has said it will be burying the replacement pipe 30 feet under the river. John Baden, founder of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, also based in Bozeman, served on President Reagan's National Petroleum Council. He thinks environmental groups are using the spill as an excuse to push new, unnecessary regulations.

The spill was not a consequence of neglect or malfeasance on Exxon's part, Baden said, but one example of the "distribution of risk across a vast system." Oil companies have "tons of pipelines" crisscrossing the country, he said, and environmentalists in Montana are making political hay off a system they rely on "to fill up their Subarus."

But in mid-July even the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Republican Fred Upton, said he will introduce legislation to update pipeline regulations, requiring deeper pipelines under rivers and better shut-off valves-mirroring Democratic legislation currently in the Senate. Upton represents Kalamazoo, Mich., where another pipeline broke last year and poured 20,000 barrels of oil into the Kalamazoo River, one of the worst spills in the Midwest in recent history. Oil spills from pipeline breaks are rare, but the succession of two high-profile breaks in the last year has pushed Congress to take action. "A disaster always motivates Congress," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which will be pushing the legislation alongside the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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