It's been almost a month since oil last gushed into the Gulf from BP's Macondo well. That's a good thing. We still can't say for sure whether BP has plugged the well for good. The "top kill" seems to be holding, but the last bit of drilling on the relief well for a "bottom kill" was delayed by bad weather. For now, though, it's looking like the end to this chapter might finally be in sight.
But it would be a big mistake for anyone to start hanging "Mission Accomplished" banners.
Thousands are still out of work in the Gulf as a result of this disaster. Miles of coastal wetlands have been covered with oil, and we don't yet know what long-term damage fisheries and marine life will suffer as a result of the oil and chemical dispersants.
There's a real temptation to paint a rosier picture, though. Last week, the White House reported that three-quarters of the oil that was dumped in the Gulf was now accounted for. "The vast majority of the oil is gone," said Carol Browner on the Today show.
First of all, there's skepticism among experts about that figure. A quarter of the "gone" oil is marked as "dispersed," for instance. Dispersing oil is not the same as making it disappear. It's still in the ecosystem, along with the chemicals used to disperse it.
Even if you accept the government's numbers, that still leaves 100 million gallons of oil still in the Gulf, either on the surface, dispersed, or unaccounted for.
That's a lot of oil. It's nearly ten times more oil than was released during the Exxon Valdez spill, which -- twenty years later -- is still doing damage along hundreds of miles of Alaska's shoreline.
Stopping the oil and cleaning it up have always been the immediate priorities. But there's much much more that needs to happen:
BP still needs to address the damage done to the Gulf's economy, communities, shorelines, and marine life as a result of its carelessness.
Our leaders need to make sure that BP stays accountable. The Senate can start by picking up the ball it dropped before its recess and passing a strong oil-spill response bill.
Congress must address the root cause of this disaster by delivering transportation and clean-energy measures that can end our dependence on oil.
And, perhaps most of all, America needs a comprehensive 21st-century energy plan that will create jobs, boost the economy, and avoid any more disasters.
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