4. The BP Gulf oil spill kills energy reform

An oil-covered pelican in La. after the BP Gulf oil spill.

When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank, killing 11 workers and triggering the largest oil spill in U.S. history, nobody could have predicted what would follow … except, perhaps, for the most soul-blackened cynic.

The spill triggered a collective wringing of hands that lasted exactly as long as the “spillcam” was on the teevee. Then it was gone, and it left not a ripple. There was no sustained uprising, no renewed environmental movement, and no demand for legislation.

It didn’t help that less than a month earlier, Obama had announced a bunch of new offshore drilling. That bit of political malpractice insured that he had full ownership of the Gulf spill, rather than blame being traced to the Bush administration’s abysmal mismanagement of the Minerals Management Service. It also didn’t help that his Oval Office speech on the spill was flat, boring, and included no call whatsoever for a broad legislative response.

BPStill. It’s pretty clear that BP was grossly negligent in the run-up to the spill (to say nothing of Transocean and Halliburton). The company and its PR/lobbying army worked relentlessly to downplay the disaster, including the amount of oil involved. Then they started jerking around affected residents. BP CEO Tony Hayward said, “I’d like my life back.” BP’s chairman of the board said, “We care about the small people.”

Um, America? What does it take to get you pissed off?

In the Senate, where offshore drilling was one of the sweeteners meant to attract Republicans and wavering Dems to a deal on climate legislation, the spill had the effect of making a bill less likely. Indeed, it appears likely that Congress will adjourn without doing anything at all about the biggest environmental disaster ever in the U.S. (At least the administration is suing BP. That’ll show ’em.)

Much like Hurricane Katrina, the BP Gulf oil spill was going to “change everything” and instead changed, well, nothing. Will the next disaster be any different?