The slow and tepid response from the nation's major environmental organizations to the massive and devastating oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico stands in stark contrast to their sustained and voracious attacks on homegrown renewable fuels such as ethanol. Environmental organizations such as NRDC, Friends of the Earth and the Environmental Working Group have been working hand in glove with the National Petroleum Refiners Association to undermine expansion of America's renewable fuels industry.
This should come as no surprise. Recently, The Nation magazine, not a bastion of conservative thought, in an extensive article highlighted the close relationship between major oil companies and some of the nation's major environmental organizations. "They [the environmental organizations] take money, and in turn they offer praise, even when the money comes from the companies causing environmental devastation." The article cites Christine MacDonald, author of Green, Inc., noting, "Not only do the largest conservation groups take money from companies deeply implicated in environmental crimes; they have become something like satellite PR offices for the corporations that support them."
This tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be the largest ecological disaster our nation has ever experienced. It is likely to be worse than the Exxon Valdez and the 1969 Union blowout off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. The 1969 disaster helped mobilize the environmental movement, led to the first Earth Day in 1970 and paved the way for numerous environmental laws. Environmentalists focused on the importance of improving the safety of offshore oil drilling and called for ways to reduce America's reliance on oil.
So far, this incident has only precipitated scorn from the environmental community toward those of us that had the temerity to state the obvious: if we invest more in renewable energy we wouldn't have to drill in ecologically-sensitive land or waters to begin with!
What accounts for this? Could it be the unholy alliance between oil interests and environmentalists? Environmentalists have spent millions of oil industry dollars to fight ethanol, concocting various strawmen and red herrings, namely Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC). Two events of late have called the motives of this fight against ethanol and agriculture into question.
Environmentalists who have attacked ethanol on the basis of ILUC have relied, almost exclusively, on a highly speculative study by non-scientist, Tim Searchinger. However, the latest research by Purdue University reflects the scientific community's rejection of Searchinger's initial paper that brought the ILUC issue to the front burner in February 2008. Since then, the estimated emissions purportedly occurring from ILUC penalty have fallen by nearly 90%. Rather than acknowledge the evolution of the science, Big Oil's environmentalists say nothing.
Second, and most unfortunately, this accident reminds us once again of the destructive power of oil. Are major environmental organizations so focused on climate change that they can avoid focusing on the devastation that an offshore oil accident can produce? Have they become so enamored with bringing Big Oil to the climate change negotiating table that they need to show their power by kicking ethanol, even when it is less polluting than oil and where a spill has little discernible or lasting impact on the environment?
We hope that like a condemned man who finally sees the light, environmental organizations now realize that renewable ethanol represents a cleaner, less polluting future when compared to the search for, production, importation and consumption of oil. I for one am not holding my breath.