Japan, Libya, and BP Blowout Make the Case for Energy Change

U.S. warplanes pound Libya, and oil tops $100 a barrel. Technicians in Fukushima risk their lives to contain the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, while radioactivity shows up in spinach, milk and Tokyo tap water. The BP blowout kills 11 workers and gushes 170 million gallons of toxic crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. 

Postcards from the ragged edge of our global energy system highlight the costs we pay, the risks we bear and the toll we submit to every day for the power and fuel we use. The choice before us could not be more clear: We will stand by old habits and suffer, or find new ways to adapt and thrive.

Mideast unrest has, yet again, roiled oil markets, put U.S. forces in harm's way, raised the cost of doing business and forced American families to pay - whether we're buying groceries, airline tickets or gas for the car.

This is exactly why American presidents going back to Richard Nixon have called on us to break our costly and dangerous dependence on oil. Leaders from both parties have understood that we cannot have our security, our economy and the welfare of our families held hostage to global price and supply shocks we can't control.

And yet, we continue to use 800 million gallons of oil in this country every single day - a quarter of the world's supply—while we have less than 2 percent of the world's proven oil reserves. 

Drill, baby, drill? Done that. Nearly 60 percent of the world's producing oil wells 
are in the United States, more than in every other country in the world combined. We can't drill our way out of our addiction to oil.

And in these difficult days, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan in their struggle to bring the Daiichi nuclear power plant under some semblance of control, even as we begin to reflect on the lessons this crisis holds for Americans.

The nuclear nightmare in Fukushima was caused by a powerful earthquake followed by a horrific tsunami. But let's not kid ourselves. U.S. nuclear plants could be vulnerable to the same kinds of power loss and backup generator failure that caused the reactors and spent fuel pools to overheat, leading to fires, explosions and the release of elevated levels of radioactive gases at Daiichi. 

That's why we support an independent assessment of the equipment, operations and contingency plans at our nuclear plants that are supposed to safeguard us against nuclear risk.

A year ago next month, 29 coal miners were killed in the Upper Branch Mine explosion. Two weeks after that, 11 rig workers died in the BP blowout that polluted some of the richest ocean fisheries, coastal waters, estuaries and wetlands anywhere in the world. The families of these workers will never be the same. Precious waters, wildlife and lands have been damaged, destroyed or scarred.

How many more lives must we lose, how much more of our treasure must we expend, how much longer will we expose irreplaceable habitat and wildlife to ruin and risk before we decide, as a nation, to change course? We cannot, in good conscience, bequeath to the next generation a future of deepening energy crises, widening harm and soaring costs. 

Our children have the right to expect better from us; we have an obligation to act to reduce both the costs we pay and the risks we incur to power our nation. And we have the opportunity to press for the solutions at hand that hold out hope for today and promise for tomorrow.

We must invest, as a nation, in efficiency gains for our cars, workplaces and homes. From design innovations, new technologies and the use of simple stand-bys like insulation and thermal panes, we can dramatically cut the energy we waste, saving families and businesses scores of billions of dollars each year. An efficiency revolution is well underway, aided in part by electric and natural gas utilities themselves, but this progress must be accelerated.

We must tune up our transportation system. High-speed rail, where practical, can cut travel times in half compared to driving and drastically reduce our use of oil. We need to build cars that can get 60 miles per gallon—nearly three times the national average currently—by 2025. We need to expand our use of public transit. We need to design communities that reflect the way many of us choose to live, in homes within walking or biking distance to the places we work and shop.

And we must develop wind, solar and other renewable sources of power and fuel. This is not George Jetson stuff. Solar panel technologies are rapidly advancing and prices are coming down. The age of wind turbines is upon us. Texas—the oil capital of the world—now gets nearly 8 percent of its electricity from wind turbines. And, by helping family farmers and ranchers remain financially viable, wind turbines are keeping a vital part of the Lone Star State's great traditions alive. 

Investing in a 21st-Century energy system will create millions of good-paying American jobs. It will prepare our workers for decades of success in the fast-growing global market for energy efficient equipment and renewable fuels. It will make our country more secure. And it will reduce the pollution that threatens our future.

We can't do all this tomorrow. Like any historic transition, this one will take time. But we must get started, we must begin, we must make the decision to change.