The Skywriter

Weekly roundup 5/28/10: May (and hopefully the oil spill) ends, as clean energy gets a boost from Obama


Weekly roundup 5/28/10: May (and hopefully the oil spill) ends, as clean energy gets a boost from Obama


By Janelle Corn, Ph.D., an ecologist and wildlife biologist living in western Montana. She has lived and worked in the western U.S. for 30 years, and is currently an activist for addressing climate change before it's too late. Her new blog Natural History Now, is becoming her voice for action.

This week brings us to the end of May with progress being made on several major environmental issues. The massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may be plugged soon. Alternatives to oil to power our nation may gain more support as President Obama extends the moratorium on offshore drilling along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and in the Arctic. And the American Power Act introduced by Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman two weeks ago may move forward in the Senate.

All eyes are on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. More than 5 weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank, killing 11 employees, BP is attempting to plug the gushing well, although we won't know if it's successful for a few more days.

Some high-profile voices spoke out this week against our country's oil addiction. On Monday, it was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

"It's been nearly five weeks since oil started spewing into the Gulf of Mexico and onto our shores. Millions of gallons, miles of polluted coastline and more than a month later, the consequences of our oil addiction are as clear as the Gulf's waters once were…Weaning ourselves off of oil is a hard fact for us to face. We consume more 20 percent of the world's oil, but produce less than 3 percent of it. It's not a change we can make overnight. But if we don't start, the next disaster could make the current one look like a drop in the bucket. I'm tired of waiting for oil companies to get the message. America needs clean alternatives more urgently than ever."

Jonathan Hiskes at Grist reminded us of findings from 2008 on just how much energy efficiency can save us:

The last time lawmakers truly freaked out about the problem of our oil dependence – when gas prices topped $4 a gallon in the summer of 2008 – the Senate Energy Committee called in Skip Laitner, director of economic analysis at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The committee asked Laitner what efficiency – the famously unglamorous energy strategy–could do to relieve gas prices. He gave them an astonishing figure: It could save 46 billion barrels of oil. If the U.S. made an all-out investment in energy efficiency-cutting energy waste out of vehicles, buildings, the electrical grid, and elsewhere in the economy–Laitner believes it could save the energy equivalent of 46 billion barrels by 2030.

On Thursday, more big hitters spoke out. Jamie Rappaport Clark, Executive Vice President at Defenders of Wildlife and former Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wrote on Huffington Post,

...If the catastrophe in the Gulf does not wake us up to the need to wean ourselves off oil and move towards clean, safe renewable energy, I don't know what will. This latest spill is a wake up call to the White House, Congress and frankly all Americans. President Obama and Congress must not expand offshore drilling operations. Our leaders need to lead.

In that light, the Obama administration should immediately reinstate the moratorium on off-shore leasing, expand the moratorium to Alaska's Arctic Ocean, and rescind its approval of exploratory drilling by Shell Oil due to begin in the Arctic in less than 60 days.

Calls for action from Defenders of Wildlife, the National Audubon Society, and other grassroots organizations were finally heard. Yesterday, President Obama extended the moratorium on off-shore drilling, including the Arctic, for six months!

The President also started pushing for passage of climate and energy legislation. As Senator Kerry said in a post on the Huffington Post Thursday,

So, on the biggest issue we can deal with in this Congress, President Obama just weighed in big-time: "There's been some good work done by John Kerry and Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. Let's go. Let's not wait. Let's show the American people that in the midst of this crisis, all of us are opening our eyes to what's necessary to fulfill the promise to our children and our grandchildren." That's right – the President is pounding the bully pulpit to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation.

Thank you President Obama! We need you to push this bill forward.

And he and the Senate may have public opinion moving their way. A USA Today/Gallup poll shows:

The catastrophe has boosted concern about the environment over development of new energy supplies – a long-time balancing act in American politics. Now, a majority says protection of the environment should be given priority, "even at the risk of limiting energy supplies."

The 55%-39% divide on that question was a reversal of American views in March, before the April 20 explosion sent crude oil spewing into the gulf. Then, by 50%-43% Americans said development U.S. energy supplies should be given priority, "even if the environment suffers to some extent."

On a similar question, those surveyed divided 50%-43% over whether the environment should be protected "even at the risk of curbing economy growth" or if growth should be given priority, "even if the environment suffers to some extent." That's a big swing from March, too. Then, by 53%-38% Americans chose economic growth as their priority.

Now if only we can educate the public that energy conservation and efficiency, and alternative energy, not domestic oil production, is the best path to energy self-sufficiency for the U.S., then we may be able to accomplish something to address climate change this year. Certainly momentum seems to be swinging our way.

We will continue to follow the Gulf Oil spill and progress with the American Power Act closely. But much has changed in the past week.

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