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Heather Allen’s Blog

The Oil Spill Demonstrates National Security Imperative for a Clean Energy Future

Heather Allen

Posted May 5, 2010

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As the oil spreads in the Gulf threatening livelihoods, wildlife and coastal ecosystems, political leaders are recognizing that this event will have major implications for America’s energy future.  The stark difference between the Cape Wind project and the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico are clear symbols of the different energy paths we can choose. 

To date, we have chosen to rely primarily on fossil fuels to meet our energy needs, but these fuels have tremendous short-term and long-term consequences, from oil spills to mining disasters to global warming.  Yet even beyond environmental and health impacts the national security implications of our energy choices are among the most controversial and political.

Time magazine says:

for the foreseeable future, the U.S. will need offshore oil — certainly from the Gulf of Mexico, which is responsible for about a third of U.S. production, but perhaps eventually from other regions as well. If we don't take that oil from our own waters, we will be buying it from abroad — potentially from countries that have much more lax environmental standards.

The author is correct, if we fail to change course we will either draw more oil from our own waters, risking devastating environmental and economic consequences (As Business Insider notes, average Americans will foot the bill for any damages of the spill beyond 75 million) or we will obtain our oil from other countries.  Most of our oil comes from foreign countries now (about 57% in 2008).

Drilling at home versus abroad is a false choice echoed this morning by Senator Landrieu:

“Our choice is to increase our reliance on friends like Venezuela or Cuba and other places, or we learn how to drill it safely here.”

That response is no longer enough.  True security requires a new clean energy path.

The only meaningful response to this man-made disaster is a man-made energy bill that would finally put in place an American clean-energy infrastructure that would set our country on a real, long-term path to ending our addiction to oil.  (Thomas Friedman May 4, 2010)

The United States has the opportunity to turn away from dirty and dangerous energy sources and embrace a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill that adds ‘2 million clean energy jobs, cuts pollution by 2 billion tons, and saves 2 trillion dollars worth of oil imports.’  Our security depends on it.

The Defense Department knows that oil and other fossil fuels are contributing to the destabilizing force of climate change, and the CIA has established a new program to consider the threat of climate change.  But the threat to our national security of dirty and dangerous oil is probably best summarized in this recent article by Sandy Berger, former National Security Advisor to President Clinton.

One essential national security imperative has gone unaddressed too long, its risks unmet: the combined challenge of energy security and global climate change.

We can no longer afford to ignore the consequences of inaction or pass the buck to future generations. It is our responsibility to act now.

It's time for the United States to put in place a coherent national energy policy that limits the severe economic and national security risks of our over-dependence on oil. The American economy today is hostage to volatile oil prices. Four out of the last five U.S. recessions were preceded by an oil price spike. A geopolitical conflict that disrupts the global supply of oil could quickly escalate into a military confrontation and would leave us with few options to alleviate the impact on the U.S. economy. This strategic vulnerability draws us into intractable conflicts in the most volatile regions of the world.

Now is the moment to pass comprehensive climate legislation and protect America from the immediate and growing threats to our health, environment and security from the dirty fuels of the past. 










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Helen BushnellMay 5 2010 11:12 PM

Supporting environmental legislation is vital. I believe that both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act are being debated in the Senate. Now is also the time to start walking, biking and taking the bus and advocating funding for those forms of transportation.

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