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In the end, did huge Gulf oil spill underwhelm oil-hungry Americans?

Predictions of 'Obama's Katrina,' millions of fish belly up on beaches, and an end to deep-water drilling all came to naught. High gasoline prices now seem more pressing to Americans than the Deepwater Horizon disaster that led to Gulf oil spill.

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Moreover, scientists have not rendered a final verdict on the spill's long-term ecological effects, with thousands of Gulf water samples still queued up in federally funded labs. The spill's impact on the reproductive cycles of fin fish, too, remains unclear. Alaska herring stocks plunged several years after the Exxon Valdez accident and have yet to recover.

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Then there are the dolphins: An average of one a day has washed up this year – a much higher rate than usual – and a dozen of the carcasses have tested positive for petroleum.

"This isn't something where people should say, 'Oh well, we dodged a bullet,' " Roger Helm, chief of the US Fish and Wildlife Service's environmental contaminants division, tells CNN. "It's unlikely at this time that we will have a catastrophic effect.... But there's no question that a lot of oil was released, a lot of animals died, and this system, at least over the short term, is not going to be the same."

By many accounts, the Obama administration has made regulatory changes that improve industry safety – and oil companies themselves, worried about becoming the next BP, are said to have buttoned up procedures. But Congress – where Republican members have introduced legislation to make it easier, not harder, for companies to drill in deep water, and even the Arctic – has not acted to protect the Gulf from the push to expand drilling, critics say.

“It’s just a matter of when, not if, we have another deep-water disaster,” engineering expert Robert Bea of the University of California-Berkeley tells USA Today.

Conservation groups say Congress has also punted on promises to fund marsh restoration efforts along the coast, which is eroding at an alarming clip because of man-made modifications to the landscape.

"Much of the legislation that I have seen bandied around, especially with the House Republicans, is almost as if the Deepwater Horizon Macondo well incident never happened," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said recently. "I don't have amnesia, and neither does the president."

"One year into the Gulf oil disaster, the oil is still here, the promises are forgotten, and Congress still hasn't done its job," says Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation, in a statement.

But a year after what Obama called "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced," it appears that Mr. Schweiger may be addressing a largely empty room.


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