By Amanda Bauer
As a personal rule, I try not to get caught up in the words that people choose. But there is one word that has been used so much in conversations about funding for oil spill prevention and response, and when talking about the cost-efficiency of regulations: that word is burdensome.
I would like to tell you about some things I would consider a burden.
Burdensome would be leaving my native village with my vessel to go clean up a multi-billion dollar company’s oil while watching my financial security, how I take care of myself and my family, my way of life, my already fragile culture, die before my eyes. Knowing yet another generation will be lost to the ways of their people. Knowing that I may be emotionally, mentally, and physically ruined forever.
Burdensome, to me, is the world not eating our seafood, the world not travelling our waters, tourists’ cameras aimed not at breaching whales, but at beached whales.
Burdensome is a 13 foot tide, in and out, twice a day, re-oiling every rock and pebble, painstakingly cleaned just hours before.
Burdensome is surfacing to breathe the oxygen you can’t live without; exhaling just below the surface of the ocean, then breaking through a surface now covered in thick crude oil, to breath in heavy, polluted air.
I have been anticipating change with prevention and response for years. As captain of a tour boat in Prince William Sound, I tell the story of the Exxon Valdez about a hundred times every summer. Around the 20th anniversary of the spill, I remember thinking to myself: “20 years is a long time. Soon someone is going to want to start reducing prevention and response.” I thought the same at 21 years, 22, 23, 24, and 25 years.
Already, we are being told of the first steps – tightening travel, delaying large purchases, merging programs, and not filling vacated positions. I remember a time, long before I joined the council, when just the talk of not replacing a single employee at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conversation was grounds for a tough battle.
I am extremely concerned about the Sound and downstream communities. Prince William Sound plays a major role in North American standards for spill prevention and response. At a time when Alaska’s Arctic will certainly be developed, I can’t help but speculate what effect any reduction, be it the slightest, in prevention and response, may have on undeveloped areas. If we loosen our standards, make our regulations and statutes less burdensome, in a place that has suffered one of the worst oil spill disasters in North American history, why push for strict standards anywhere else?
We need to do all we can to protect the regulations and statutes that are in place today. We have gone 25 years without a major spill because of our regulations and statutes. Society should not have to suffer repeated failures, but instead celebrate our successes.
We have already suffered our burden.