THE BLOG
08/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

California's Budget Crisis Turns Out to Be Great for Oil Companies. Weird.

2009 isn't just the 40th anniversary of man walking on the moon, it's also the 40th anniversary of the Santa Barbara oil spill, the worst in American history, before the Exxon Valdez. We may never go to the moon again, but thanks to last night's California budget compromise, we're going to be drilling off Santa Barbara again, for the first time since 1969. Who says America can't accomplish things anymore?

Happy Anniversary!

There are lots of exciting items in Governor Schwarzenegger's budget compromise. We're cutting $9 billion from the school system and a billion from Medi-Cal, the state's health program for the poor. (The bad news is more kids will get sick and miss school. The good news is there isn't any school.) But if you're a robot from the future, or just played one in the movies, the real achievement is drilling Santa Barbara. The chance to change the past itself. To go back to the birthplace of the environmental movement and kill it in its crib.

The state could get about $100 million in revenue from new oil leases off Santa Barbara. That might seem like a pitiful amount of money, because it is, but we'll also undo four decades of environmental law.

On January 28th, 1969 there was a blowout on Union Oil's Platform Alpha in the Santa Barbara Channel. Three million gallons of oil came out of the seabed over the next eleven days and spread in a slick from Pismo to Oxnard, so thick in places it stopped the waves from making noise. It wasn't just a crime against nature, it was a traumatic event on a national scale. Nothing could stop the oil. Day after day, it kept coming. It didn't just kill plants and birds and fish and dolphins. It made America feel like an asshole.

And the modern environmental movement was born. Really. The State Land Commission banned offshore drilling. A statewide initiative created the California Coastal Commission. The first Earth Day was celebrated that November, leading to the first incident of free face painting for the kids. And President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, leading the way to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.

And we stopped drilling for oil off Santa Barbara. And it seemed to work out pretty well from 1969 through yesterday afternoon. Unocal didn't like it, but who cares what oil companies think?

But that was before the budget emergency. Now we have to make hard choices. We can't live in some hippie paradise like Richard Nixon. It's time to wake up and smell the sludge. It's time to fire some teachers and drill.

The budget is a compromise in the sense that the poor lose and oil companies win.

And all it took was a budget crisis created by a canceled tax on cars, passed by a governor installed in a special election, held to remove the previous governor, who couldn't stop the rolling blackouts, that were being deliberately created by an energy trading company.

Sometimes you almost get the feeling that this game is fixed. All our emergencies end up making the rich richer. It's like some kind of shock doctrine or something.