The report released Tuesday on the Deepwater Horizon debacle uses two words the drillers didn't want to hear: "systemic failure." Make no mistake: The report says the oil and gas industry is unprepared for disasters like the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster of 2010.
Despite the deaths of 11 workers, sinking the region's economy and again fouling its own Gulf Coast nest, the industry spent the day spinning the findings as an isolated instance caused by rogue operators. That's an insult to every American, especially the families who suffered in the disaster, and it ignores the commission's clear, hard-hitting findings.
Last summer we all watched in horror as an undersea volcano of oil spewed into the gulf for 91 days. But this is a rare instance where something good can come from tragedy. For starters, we can use BP's fines to restore a way of life to the region that has suffered the worst environmental and economic harm. The commission recommends devoting at least 80 percent of BP's guilt money to restoration, and that requires an act of Congress.
The report's recommendation to fund coastal restoration is a critical first step toward rebuilding an ecosystem that has been shattered by an unfettered energy industry and well-intentioned but terrifically destructive Mississippi River management.
We know that the natural buffers, the wetlands and the forests can regrow. It's just a question of political will and money. The commission says we should bring both to bear, and Congress can make that happen. The commission also called for a new generation of robust scientific studies and long-term monitoring to understand and mitigate the spill's effects and to guide and evaluate restoration efforts.
The report is clear; the Interior Department was outgunned by drillers and needs the people and the dollars to police the industry. Regulatory agencies need funding, staff and support to enable development and enforcement of regulatory standards.
Even now, the Obama administration is considering Shell Oil's proposal to drill in the Beaufort Sea in Alaska next summer, despite the lack of a credible oil spill response plan. This is the definition of insanity: repeat the behavior, hope for a different outcome. Think of what we witnessed in the gulf, and imagine the challenges of cleaning up a large oil spill in severe weather and broken ice conditions in the Arctic Ocean.
A uniquely fragile marine environment, Beaufort is a crucial migratory route for endangered whales and it was also recently designated as critical habitat for the threatened polar bear. With no basic infrastructure, roads, hotels or port facilities, recovery vessels would face a thousand-mile journey from the nearest Coast Guard base, at Kodiak. We must heed the clear warning laid out by the commission. It's time for a "timeout" for drilling in America's Arctic Ocean.
Co-Chairmen Sen. Bob Graham and William Reilly and all the members of the Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling have shown a willingness to face hard and unpopular truths, and given us a key opportunity.
Can this Congress empower the drilling police? Can the oil and gas industry balance lives, nature and profitability? Can the people of the Gulf Coast dare to hope that their fractured landscape can be put back together again? All of that is possible, the commission said. And it's right.
David Yarnold is president of the National Audubon Society.