NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 21, 2010

The Gulf oil spill is having all sorts of nasty consequences well beyond damage to the regional environment and economy.  Not least, the resulting political panic seems to be rehabilitating the thoroughly discredited theory of regulation known as the precautionary principle, says the Wall Street Journal. 

  • This principle holds that government should attempt to prevent any risk -- regardless of the costs involved, however minor the benefits and even without understanding what those risks really are.
  • Developed in the late 1960s, this theory served as the intellectual architecture for the Environmental Protection Agency, which is still required to eliminate certain environmental risks no matter how expensive or pointless the effort is. 

This same mentality is now prompting not merely tighter safety standards, but President Obama's moratorium on all new deep water drilling, shutting down dozens of Gulf and Alaskan projects, maybe permanently, says the Journal: 

  • Last month, 26 Democrats demanded that the government fold up BP's other major Gulf operation, Atlantis, "to ensure that the explosion and mishap of the Horizon platform are not replicated."
  • Meanwhile, Governor Charlie Crist and other Florida politicians want a Gulf drilling ban unto eternity, and the California, Washington and Oregon Senate delegations want one for the West Coast too.  

"Without a permanent ban on drilling off our shores," said Dianne Feinstein, "there is no guarantee whatsoever that this will not happen again." 

In other words, the precautionary principle is back with a vengeance, says the Journal.  

Source: Editorial, "The 'Paralyzing' Principle," Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2010.


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