On March 22nd, almost 170,000 gallons of heavy marine fuel poured into Galveston Bay on the Texas coast after two commercial boats collided in the busy waterway. In Indiana, on March 24th, energy giant BP spilled as many as 1600 gallons of oil — a mix of domestic crude and tar sands oil from Canada — into Lake Michigan, the primary source of drinking water for Chicago's seven million residents. And on March 17th, 20,000 gallons of pipeline oil leaked into a nature preserve in southwest Ohio. Meanwhile, January's Elk River chemical spill, which contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians, continues to frighten citizens, many of whom are still not drinking or bathing in it.
Pollution has long been an accepted cost of cheap energy production, particularly in states desperate for jobs. Big Energy is a powerful presence in Washington, working hard to block and gut environmental regulation and to defang the agencies tasked with protecting the country's natural resources. Weak or outdated laws governing toxic chemicals, and the absence of standardized oversight, tracking mechanisms or meaningful punishment for oil spills and leaks gives industry the leeway to keep polluting.
In the last twelve months, a rash of devastating oil, coal ash and chemical incidents have highlighted how extreme environmental degradation is now standard practice. Here are some of the worst.
By Coco McPherson