I have been reading Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power by Steve Coll, and was captivated by the prologue, which reviewed the Exxon Valdez tragedy. As I read the story, I began to get an uneasy feeling that we may be witnessing history about to repeat itself.
Precisely what sent the Exxon Valdez into Bligh Reef and environmental infamy is still not known with certainty. What is known is that all the relevant parties were at fault. Exxon had been laying off thousands of employees with the result that the ship was undermanned, the sailors tired and their ability to detect and deal with dangers compromised; and the American government had been instituting budget cuts such that the Coast Guard lacked the radar ability to monitor the ship past Bligh Reef.
Now we Canadians have a government that is determined to see the construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline which will result in tankers carrying a lot nastier stuff than was aboard the Exxon Valdez through a passage that is much more tortuous. And as this government enthusiastically promotes the pipeline, it just as enthusiastically budget-cuts environmental monitoring of all kinds. How can we possibly trust such a government to ensure that the tanker traffic will be conducted safely?
A government that should be establishing a foundation of trust on environmental matters in order to convince us it is committed to responsible stewardship of tanker traffic is doing just the opposite: pulling out of Kyoto, resisting appropriate environmental regulation, closing research facilities, muzzling scientists, McCarthyizing environmentalists, etc. The evidence is clear: this is not a government that can be trusted to put the environment ahead of economic activity. For this reason alone, the Northern Gateway should be denied.