Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Three lessons linger from BP oil spill

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Fri April 20, 2012
An oil-soaked pelican wallows in surf on East Grand Terre Island, Louisiana, on June 4, 2010, after the Deepwater Horizon spill.
An oil-soaked pelican wallows in surf on East Grand Terre Island, Louisiana, on June 4, 2010, after the Deepwater Horizon spill.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile: Observances of Earth Day and the second year since BP oil spill are upon us
  • As spill fades in memory, she says, we must remember why it drew out our shared humanity
  • She says 3 lessons emerged: One, only Big Business has means to clean up own mess
  • Brazile: Government staying out of way leads to disaster; any regulation is not overregulation

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day on Sunday, let us not forget that Friday marks the second anniversary of the start of the BP oil spill. It deserves more than a shrug, an "oh, yeah," and "how's the fishing?" It deserves more than a solemn voiced announcer relegating it to a "this day in history," with a picture from the archives to jog our memory.

Sometimes, a tragedy has its own tragedy: It has its day, or week, or month in the news cycle; then time passes and other things happen. We move on, directed by the media and politicians, to the next great outrage.

In so doing, we may lose the why and the wherefore -- the things that caused us, through the lens and the pen, to be interested, involved, invested in a tragedy not our own. And we then forget just what made us a community, if only for a moment. As Desmond Tutu said: "My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together."

CNN Contributor Donna Brazile
CNN Contributor Donna Brazile

Dear Reader, share with me, for a few minutes, the humanity of the Deepwater Horizon. For I am a daughter of the Gulf South, and this is personal -- though, as is often the case, the personal is universal.

When the Deepwater Horizon well exploded, 11 people died. Not a lot of people, in the sense that they measure tragedies. But "every individual is a world." Eleven worlds exploded, and they had satellites -- spouses, children, siblings, parents, friends and neighbors -- still affected, still reeling out of orbit, still trying to cope with a void that can never be filled.

2010: Ex-Black Crowe talks oil disaster
2010: Did oil spill damage BP?
2010: BP releases oil inquiry report

Others lost their livelihood. We call the work we do "making a living." If we lose a job, we can hopefully, eventually, find another. But if we lose a "living" -- a way of life -- what then? The fishermen and their support network -- their satellites and dependents -- were crippled by the oil spill. Yes, the seafood industry has begun to recover, but it still limps.

Tragedy affects our lives and our livelihoods. But it also affects our environment and the creatures that make it habitable, beautiful -- and profitable. Two years ago, we cringed at the pictures of the oil-soaked pelicans, the turtles and fish drowned in oil; we were repulsed by the images of wetlands and marshes greasy, with slimeballs surfacing. Do we know the status of the fauna and flora today?

And we cheered the rescue efforts, we donated, we educated ourselves about ecosystems and coastal waterways and environmental interconnectedness. Do we have a minute on this anniversary to continue our education, to donate again to our ecological survival?

I felt anger two years ago, as oil spewed into my beloved Gulf. I was so angry, and words seemed as helpless as the birds and the marshes. How stupid. How arrogant. How greedy. Why don't they do something?

When the governor and the local politicians railed and ranted and demanded and got their airtime, I'll be honest: I cheered. I felt righteous indignation vicariously justified.

Nor was the anger misplaced. BP was at fault. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill wasn't an unavoidable accident. It resulted from negligence and avarice. Profit first, responsibility second. I am reminded of what Shirley Chisholm once said: "When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses."

But there is profit, and there is profit, and there are moral lessons in every tragedy -- practical lessons that bring us from the personal to the universal.

Over the past two years, I have reflected, off and on, about dismay and anger and lessons, and I think I've discovered three in the Deepwater Horizon.

First, only Big Business has the resources to clean up its own mess. The federal government had neither the technicians nor the knowledge to stop the oil from gushing into the Gulf and sliming our shores, the barrier islands, marine life, our way of life and food supply.

Second, and as a consequence, the philosophy that government should stay out of the way of Big Business primes the pump of disaster. I don't want Big Brother in my life any more than the most fervent tea party Republican does.

But, brother patriot, let me tell you a fact of life: We need the federal government to act as umpire. Only Big Government is big enough to keep Big Business from thumbing its nose at the public welfare, and besmirching the public's health and safety. There's a reason the Constitution begins, "We the people in order to ... promote the common welfare ..."

Third, there's something wrong with the philosophy that almost any regulation is overregulation. No, we should have done something before the spill. We should have regulated BP and watched it closely, instead of giving it a pass to do as it pleased. To modify a cliché, an ounce of regulation is worth many pounds of rectification.

But in remembering this event, let us never lose sight that we're all in this together. And when disaster strikes -- natural or man-made -- we must find the will to rebuild safer and stronger than before.

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:27 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 6:09 PM EDT, Sat September 27, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 2:02 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 1:41 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
updated 3:00 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
updated 8:57 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
updated 4:40 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
updated 10:01 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
updated 8:32 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
updated 2:05 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT