Richard Frank posted yesterday at Authorized Planet on the 50th anniversary of the Santa Barbara oil spill. Some excerpts:

In some ways, nonetheless, the January 1969 Santa Barbara spill stays essentially the most consequential and transformative environmental catastrophe in American historical past.  That’s true for a number of associated causes.  First, it was the inaugural such environmental catastrophe captured and broadcast into thousands and thousands of U.S. households on the night information.  For weeks, the key TV networks supplied gripping, day by day accounts of the organic harm and hostile financial results produced by the Platform A blowout.  And that had a profound impact on the nationwide psyche, with televised footage of lifeless and dying animals, fouled seashores and oil-saturated ocean waters underscoring in essentially the most stark approach the myriad prices related to oil and fuel improvement in coastal waters.

Second, the Santa Barbara oil spill provoked a powerful and quick response from authorities leaders.  Native officers complained bitterly to the media and public concerning the lack of ample environmental controls and oil spill response efforts, noting presciently that the federal authorities that had issued the oil and fuel leases–thereby incomes substantial royalties from the oil firms’ offshore improvement actions–had an inherent battle of curiosity when it got here to regulatory oversight of those self same actions.  Federal officers had a extra muted response to the spill: President Richard Nixon visited the realm to view the spill and cleanup efforts on March 21st, telling the assembled crowd, “…the Santa Barbara incident has frankly touched the conscience of the American individuals.”  However on April 1st, a hastily-adopted, momentary federal drilling ban was lifted, and oil and fuel improvement in federal waters resumed off the California coast.

Long term, nonetheless, the Santa Barbara spill would have a direct and constructive impact on American environmental coverage and legislation.  Later that yr, Congress would enact the Nationwide Environmental Coverage Act (additionally a half century previous this yr).  And NEPA was however the first in a torrent of environmental laws handed by Congress over the subsequent decade–together with the Clear Air Act, Clear Water Act and Endangered Species Act–that to at the present time stays the fundamental framework of federal environmental legislation.


The Santa Barbara oil spill additionally catalyzed a state authorities response that rapidly made California a nationwide and worldwide chief with regards to environmental coverage and legislation.  Within the quick wake of the catastrophe, the Republican-dominated California Legislature created an interim Committee on Environmental High quality, directing it to develop suggestions for state environmental laws.  An important outgrowth of that initiative was passage in 1970 of the California Environmental High quality Act; modeled on however considerably stronger than NEPA; CEQA stays California’s most essential, cross-cutting environmental legislation, in addition to essentially the most highly effective “little NEPA” statute within the nation.  And when the California Legislature balked at passing a legislation particularly designed to stop ocean and coastal harm exemplified by the Santa Barbara oil spill, state voters responded by enacting an initiative measure in 1972 creating the California Coastal Fee and essentially the most highly effective system of coastal regulation and preservation within the nation. 

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