In the wake of the unraveling BP Oil Disaster, the time has come to set a deadline to phase out oil drilling and fossil fuel extraction.
Countless men and women have for generations dedicated their careers -sometimes risking their lives and their health- to power our hospitals, school buses, homes, and businesses. America owes a debt of gratitude to those in the fuel industry for greatly contributing to the early growth and success of our nation. They deserve our respect. But their welfare remains in peril along with ours until we convert to a clean energy economy.
Aaron Dale Burkeen was a 37 year-old crewmember on the BP Deepwater Horizon oilrig. He died with 10 of his crewmates on April 20th, 2010 when the rig exploded. At his memorial service on May 25th, his family described Dale as a “caring and honorable son, brother, and father.” America can honor him and our many other energy veterans best by creating safe, dignified, and sustainable careers for their children.
Dale is one of many heartbreaking casualties of the BP Oil Disaster. After the deaths of these 11 workers, Americans learned about the scores of crab, oyster, and shrimp fishermen along the Gulf Coast being put out of business, perhaps forever, as a result of the spill. Dolphins, sea turtles, pelicans, and fish are washing ashore dead and soaked in oil. The National Guard and workers are racing against time to erect sandbag walls in hopes of saving miles of fragile wetlands and salt marshes from the oil. Watching aerial video of miles of red streaks across the sea, and giant plumes of oil swirling under the water, it is clear that this nightmare has only just begun.
It didn’t have to be this way..
The Gulf Coast didn’t have to suffer the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history on April 20th. Twenty-nine West Virginia miners didn’t have to die in the worst U.S. coalmine explosion since 1970 on April 5th. Tennessee families didn’t have to be left with 300 acres of poisoned land and broken homes after the worst coal ash release in U.S. history on December 22nd, 2008. It is the year 2010. Energy does not have to cost lives. America can do better.
By now we should all know that the true cost of conventional electricity and fuel is far higher than the sticker price. Even if there never were another oil spill, coalmine explosion, or power plant meltdown, the costs of fossil fuel extraction would still be enormous. Air and water pollution, climate change, and resource wars are killing jobs and taking lives all over the world each day. Passing comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation in the U.S. this year is a critical first step to putting a price on fossil fuels. And yet, for a deeply divided U.S. Congress, that seems an enormous task. It doesn’t have to be so. We know we can do better.
The U.S. government began giving tax breaks for oil and gas production in 1916. Coal mining subsidies began in 1932. Most taxpayers have no idea that we are still propping up the fossil fuel industry with $12 billion in annual subsidies and tax breaks. Clean energy technologies such as wind and solar have received weaker and less consistent government subsidies and yet are already providing fuel and power all over the world without the ecological, economic, or human costs of fossil fuels. Something is wrong with this picture. We can do better.
Today President Obama and BP are focused on stopping the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and preventing massive wetland and coastal destruction. These efforts will save lives and should be their first priority. But once the well is capped and the cleanup begins, we must open our eyes to what this means to our nation’s future viability. President Obama and the oil industry have a simple choice to make: put another band-aid on a decaying, dangerous industry, or set a bold course for the future. By setting a goal of phasing out all oil drilling and fossil fuel extraction by 2030, BP can live up to their “Beyond Petroleum” slogan. And by aggressively championing a nationwide commitment to clean energy technologies with a price on fossil fuels, President Obama can fulfill his promise to deliver “change we can believe in”.
America can and must do better.