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 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 8:25 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 6:31 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT