the environmental groups we talked to from the usually assertive animals rights organization PETA \(People for the Ethical wrenching Earth Firsters to Greenpeace and more conventional groups were dubious about a boycott. The situation is similar to the aftermath of the meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in 1978, when, in the face of general inertia among environmental groups, an ad hoc coalition of environmentalists, peace activists, and rock and film stars worked with Nader to organize a huge environmental demonstration in Washington, which was widely credited with helping to sway popular opinion against nuclear power. In part, the spill can be explained as the predictable result of energy policies initiated by the Republicans over the last decade and, in part, by George Bush’s personal odyssey through the oil fields of the Southwest. As a result, Bush, more than any President since LBJ, is at the beck and call of the industry giants. AFTER THE SCOPE of the disaster became apparent, oil industry promoters in Congress temporar ily abandoned plans to push ahead with legislation authorizing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Meanwhile, in Washington, other environmental groups discussed legislative strategy. One possibility is to seek legislation in Congress aimed at a ban on all offshore oil drilling, including in such prime Alaskan tracts as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Bristol Bay, as well as offshore in California, Florida, and the Georges Bank in the East. Exxon and Alyeska are thought to be insured against most damages arising from the spill, with coverage estimated to range from $600 million to $1 billion. That would include money to clean up the spill and to repay both fishermen for their lost harvest and losses incurred by residents who depend on tourism. The real costs to the company will most likely be in the form of punitive damages, many of them filed in New York, where the company is domiciled. The alleged negligence of the tanker captain, along with the long history of environmental indifference compiled by both Exxon and Alyeska, will certainly fuel such claims. In spite of the spill, there appears to be wide acceptance of the inevitability of exploiting the Prudhoe Bay oil fields, as well as acceptance of an industrial corridor running along the pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez and through the Sound \(not that there is much choice any more about the Sound, which now looks more like the Galveston ship channel than a scenic wildlife The desolation in Alaska has its roots in the energy crisis of the 1970s, which was shrewdly manipulated by the oil companies to launch feverish exploration worldwide. A bold political coalition among Reagan Republicans and “little oil,” the domestic producers in the Southwest who long had supported the Democratic Party, plotted a successful assault in 1980 on government regulatory control of the energy industry. With Reagan in the White House, the GOP labored to end regulation and reverse former President Jimmy Carter’s slender beginnings of a policy aimed at promoting energy conservation and renewable substitutes, i.e., solar, small-scale hydroelectric, and wind power. They also pressed for a massive barn sale of the remaining unexplored oil and gas tracts on the outercontinental shelf, which are under the jurisdiction of the Interior Department. The policy was carried forward first by James Watt, the right-wing ideologue and sagebrush rebel who sought to sell off such huge slices of the public domain that Congress itself revolted, and later by Donald Hodel, who had served Watt as undersecretary. Hodel came to ‘ Interior from the Bonneville Power Administration, where he was a keen enthusiast for the WPPSS nuclear power project, which hoped to transform the efficient and inexpensive public electrical power system in the northwest into an all-nuclear grid. WPPSS eventually went bankrupt. Over eight years, the Reagan administration cut funds for energy conservation by nearly three-quarters; reduced federal funds for renewable energy R&D by 85 percent; and ended tax incentives for residential solar energy and conservation. But they maintained tax incentives for fossil fuel development by industry; fought off in the end unsuccessfully appliance efficiency standards; and scaled back the new auto fuel efficiency standard from 27.5 miles per gallon to 26, holding 1989 standards to just 26.5 mpg. Last year, the Reagan administration sought to completely repeal auto efficiency standards on the grounds that they were unduly hampering domestic companies in their fight with foreign competitors for markets. Meanwhile, Hodel, the Crazy Eddie of the energy business, was out to sell everything he could get his hands on. “The The Exxon Boycott BY JAMES RIDGEWAY Washington, D.C. AS THE ENVIRONMENTAL movement slowly recovered from the shock of the Alaskan oil spill, Ralph Nader called for a consumer boycott of Exxon. “How many times do we have to say, `We told you so,’ ” Nader declared. “There’s no such thing as emergency planning. There should be a consumer boycott. That’s the only penalty those bastards are going to pay. Everything else is insured and deductible. “It’s conceivable that given the publicity and the anger of the people,” Nader continued, “you could drain off a couple of billion dollars in the next six months. That’s just two percent of the company’s net worth]. But that’s a kind of penalty.” Nader also urged that the FBI, which began a criminal investigation into the spill, obtain a search warrant to take custody of all Exxon and Alyeska records pertaining to tanker and pipeline operations as well as the cleanup in Alaska so as to prevent their destruction or alteration. Federal officials, who failed to obey the law, should be “held responsible,” he said, and, in the case of the Coast Guard, face possible “courtsmartial.” At first, environmental groups were cool to the boycott idea. The usually adventuresome Greenpeace rejected the boycott approach, pledging instead to help in a volunteer cleanup and to work for alternatives that would make drilling unnecessary. “Our strategy is not to organize a boycott because we feel the cause of the spill is much deeper than Exxon’s drunk captain,” said a Greenpeace spokeswoman. “We feel oil development cannot be done in an environmentally sound way, period.” “I’m all in favor of a boycott,” said Brent Blackwelder, of the newly merged Friends of the Earth, Environmental Policy Institute, and Oceanic Society. “But I’m dismayed because right here in my own office, I’ve gotten the argument that Exxon is just one of many, and that you really can’t influence them very much. It’s sort of initial inertia. But I’ll tell you, enough people are going to do it.” In April, Blackwelder was meeting with leaders of the League of Conservation Voters to explore a boycott. “We want to translate this tragedy into some sort of decisive action,” he said. But aside from the Nader boycott threat, James Ridgeway’s column, published by the Village Voice, is a regular feature of the Observer. Research for this article was provided by Bill Gifford. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13 4.’uu 4ts,t,u-aalas u
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