Breath of Clarity

The Problem of Oil Spills


States face a major challenge concerning the environmental regulation of oil extraction and transportation in the face of storms intensifying with climate change. Louisiana still has not finished investigating 540 oil spills after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. In total, the storms released 10.8 million gallons of oil. While the Oil Pollution Act entails federal and state agencies complete assessments indicating specific damage, not one assessment of the damage to natural resources has been completed now, 14 years after the hurricanes (Meiners 2019). As a result, the state is failing to collect millions of dollars in fines that are going to be crucial for remediation as storms strengthen due to climate change (Meiners 2019). Without checking the National Response Center database or receiving a Coast Guard press release, the public only learns of the spill at the final stage when a plan to restore the area is complete (Meiners 2019). However, the problem is a lack of investigating the spills. A proposed solution is to instigate public concern and political engagement by heightening the standard for reporting the oil spills. A second proposed solution is to require companies secure oil tanks in place by filling them with water when there is a hurricane developing so the tanks do not shift during a storm. Finally, a third proposed solution is to update the Oil Pollution Act to place additional responsibility in the judicial branch and assign policy implementation responsibility to the federal government (Meiners 2019). Continuing inaction would destroy wildlife refuges home to endangered species.


The first proposed solution recognizes the powerful role of citizens in agenda-setting. Walter Rosenbaum would partially define the problem as a lacking ability to impart sufficient importance and urgency to the issue (Rosenbaum 2019, 34). Alternatively, transparency gives citizens power. For example, when photography enabled the public to see a hole, it immensely hastened the Montreal Protocol to completion (Rosenbaum 2019, 34). It is interesting to consider the public’s potential to improve environmental conditions.

The second proposed solution emphasizes Rosenbaum’s reverence for the special place of science in policymaking (Rosenbaum 2019, 58). Without science being able to predict the presence of a hurricane, the solution is not possible. Also, although using water as a weight is simple technology, it still falls under the umbrella of science. Further, the scientific method can be used to prove the degree to which the outlined strategy is actually successful in preventing a spill and address any difficulty companies may have in doing so (Rosenbaum 2019, 60). Still, policy implementation would still be insufficient insofar as the enforcement strategy is lacking.

The final proposed solution values checks and balances to disperse power within the government among legislative, executive and judicial institutions. The original problem occurred due to the federal government’s attempt to use common regulations in varying geographical contexts which triggered a major issue in the program’s implementation phase (Rosenbaum 2019, 37). Due to oil transportation and storms being prevalent in the given area, the state found itself overwhelmed with the number of environmental impact assessments it still needed to complete. That said, the state government cannot handle the expense and administrative difficulty they must endure to implement regulations the federal government has negligently piled on them (Rosenbaum 2019, 37). Assigning policy implementation responsibility to the federal government is going to enable more spills to be investigated. Increasing the role of the courts strengthens the public’s voice to instigate assessment of the damages and also checks to ensure policy implementation is being achieved. Further, the powerful stakeholders involved play a role in the federal government not already monitoring the state’s progress. The Trump administration has drawn up a plot to open the Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil and gas at reduced royalty rates to encourage additional near-shore drilling in Louisiana waters (Meiners 2019). Currently, the federal government is incentivizing continuous environmental damage while under equipping any entities who may stand a chance at mitigating it.


Meiners, Joan. 2019. “How Oil Companies Avoided Environmental Accountability After 10.8 Million Gallons Spilled” ProPublica. Accessed September 27, 2020.

Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2019. Environmental Politics and Policy. 11th Ed., Thousand Oaks, CQ.