Nine days after an explosion killed 11 workers on an offshore drilling platform and sent thousands of gallons of crude oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, the first of that oil began to wash ashore late Thursday night. As Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency and Washington stepped up its involvement in the mission to shut off the flow of oil and contain the existing slick, what was once considered an environmental crisis quickly took on the appearance of a full-on catastrophe. Not only are ecosystems from Mississippi to Florida facing critical harms, but economic fallout from the spill threatens to damage numerous local industries from fishing to tourism, in a region already reeling from recession.
In Washington, critics of President Barack Obama's recent proposal to expand domestic offshore drilling were more vocal than ever in their demands that the ever-present dangers from these sorts accidents be weighed against the economic benefits promised by drilling advocates. The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has announced that it will hold hearings on the spill, and will soon be requesting testimony from several of the country's largest oil companies.
For its part, the Obama administration seems to already be distancing itself from the proposal. Press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that though the President planned on reserving judgment for the time being, the policy would be reviewed in light of evidence about the causes and ultimate effects of the spill.
Many have speculated that any repeal of the offshore drilling ban would be a political concession aimed at building support for the White House's energy plan. Still considered to be a priority for Obama in his first term, the energy bill was recently placed on the back burner by congress in favor of immigration reform. Publicly, the President had been selling a balanced strategy towards energy independence that coupled infrastructure and technological investment with increased domestic energy production.
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