2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 11
Presentation Time: 11:15 AM


MANHEIM, Frank T., School of Public Policy, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030, fmanhei1@gmu.edu

Analysis of the history of the U.S. offshore oil industry suggests that the current stalemate between environmentalists and industry (and government) had its origin in a collision between a rapidly growing offshore oil and gas industry, and an environmental movement that began with Rachel Carson's powerful book, Silent Spring (1962). The collision at the Santa Barbara, California oil spill of 1969 triggered rapid enactment of Congressional laws (NEPA Act of 1969 and others) that revolutionized the U.S. environmental management system. These laws, in effect, transferred regulatory leadership from state and federal agencies with broad mandates to the U.S. Congress, the new EPA, and the courts.

The new system achieved short-term successes that vindicated the hopes of environmentalists and creative mechanisms devised to stop or control environmental harm. However, the matrix of detailed laws, multiple intersecting authorities, and new mechanisms for adversarial legal challenge soon led to a complex system characterized by an enormous increase in litigation. The courts became final decisionmakers in cases small and large. Adversarial relationships reached a peak during the Watt Administration (1981-3). Conservation, which had earlier been a bipartisan policy, merged into partisan politics.

In short, politicization of environmental management ultimately led to the current polarization and gridlock. This polarization now affects a broad range of issues not limited to offshore oil or energy policy.

In seeking new perspectives to regain a productive consensus for land use and environmental policy the U.S. might consider Scandinavian nations that are now “having their cake and eating it too”. Norway, Sweden, and Finland have no gridlock. They are widely regarded as international environmental and energy policy leaders. They are simultaneously achieving breakthroughs in offshore oil and gas recovery and mineral industry activities that are areas of antagonism and adversarial relationships in the United States.