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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > The Reagan Hangover – Exxon Spills & Deforestation

Historians may some day call these years the Reagan Hangover, but it took only a casual reader of newspapers to see the current consequences of Mr. Reagan’s unceasing and servile compliance with massive corporate delinquencies.

The Exxon supertanker oil spill of ten million gallons of devastation to Prince William Sound and beyond in Alaska is a consequence of the Reagan period of permissiveness. If the oil companies knew that a tough Uncle Sam was holding them to high standards of emergency readiness and crew selection or else incur severe penalties for criminal negligence, that beautiful ecology and its abundant fisheries would still shine under the sun instead of suffer under an oil slick which now covers an area larger than Rhode Island.

A no-nonsense Uncle Sam would have had the Coast Guard in ship shape catching the wayward moving tanker with its touted backup radar system on the sound. Instead the Coast Guard itself was caught napping.

That is not all. Californians are experiencing a 15 to 20 cents increase in the price of gasoline since the oil spill. Seems that the oil companies are using the Exxon disaster as a quick excuse to raise prices. Who knows, Exxon may yet turn this spill into an overall revenue gain at the gas pump, notwithstanding any lawsuits prevailing for damages against the company. A whole series of barriers, from a Treaty to the legal status of the fish as not belonging to any private parties, will keep Exxon’s liabilities less than what they would ordinarily be.

Oil imports are moving toward the 45% level of total U.S. consumption. For eight years, Mr. Reagan froze the motor vehicle fuel efficiency standard at 27.5 mpg and then gave GM and Ford five years of waivers at a level around 26.5 mpg. He lifted the speed limit of 55 mph on interstates which permitted many states to raise it to 65 mph. This devours more gasoline as well as produces more highway casualties. He opposed setting long-overdue standards for big truck brakes that presently have much longer stopping distances than do the automobiles they frequently sweep off the highways.

Relentlessly, Reagan downgraded his government’s programs in energy conservation until they were almost non-existent. Such programs were successful in the Seventies and showed what good regulation could do to save both energy and dollars and lessen pollution. Although new evidence about acid rain, the greenhouse effect and other global environmental perils were brought to Reagan’s attention by his own scientists, he could care less.

On another front, Reagan policies, encouraging private companies to clearcut timber on the public lands and paying little royalties for this license, has finally caught the attention of the big time press. Up in the Tongass Forest in Alaska, the last remaining rain forest in the Northern Hemisphere of any size, two companies are racing one another to cut down these majestic trees. Guess who is footing the bill for the roads and other infrastructure — you the taxpayer. Reagan was spending more than his government was receiving in royalties.

Where were many of the giant logs going? To Japan where they are being stored for future needs. Forest specialists are decrying the Reagan years which opened up American forests for export to the Far East and raised prices for houses made of wood in this country. Over 20 years ago, then Senator Wayne Morse (D-OR) predicted that our forests would become “tree farms for Japan” with the cutting done by mega-corporations replacing local mills. Reagan proved him quite the prophet.

Reagan, who as Governor of California once said “Redwoods, you see one, you see them all,” gave trees no respect. The ancient forests in the Northwest from northern California to Southeastern Alaska, are being liquidated at the rate of 170 acres every day. Only 10% of these forests, with majestic Redwoods and Douglas Firs, remain. The cutting started long before Reagan, but he stepped up the pace with abandon. Quite a legacy for posterity.