In the case of the Exxon Valdez spill, the impacts were significant not just at the time but in some places are still being felt. Though several species of affected wildlife have fully recovered, others—including sea otters and clams—have not. Meanwhile, more than 15,000 gallons of oil are still believed to be trapped in one of the coastal areas where the spill occurred.
Testifying before Congress recently, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that "the administration is not opposed to production in the offshore" but wants to include oil drilling as part of a well-deliberated, long-term energy plan. Just last week, in fact, Salazar presided over a lease sale of some 34 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico that had been off limits to exploration. That, however, has done little to assuage skeptical Republicans who worry that the administration might move to severely limit offshore production or reimpose federal restrictions.
The stage to watch: Over the next several months, Salazar and his department will be working on a five-year plan specifying what coastal areas will be auctioned off to oil companies in coming years. Among the places Salazar plants to visit for public comment: Alaska.