We've all heard that we're addicted to oil. But in the wake of the BP spill we might do well to take the oil-as-a-drug metaphor a little more seriously. For starters we need to understand that deepwater oil is the really bad stuff, the petrochemical heroin -- high risk, costly, deadly. Sooner or later we were bound to OD. And unless we quit it immediately we'll OD again.
Of course kicking the offshore-oil habit will shed some jobs from the economy. Fortunately, though, with the right policies we can quit deepwater oil and actually grow new, better jobs to replace them.
That's a story some opponents of the Obama Administration's deepwater drilling moratorium don't want us to hear. Just consider Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's recent tirade in which he called the moratorium an "economic calamity" that has jeopardized thousands of jobs. That's right; according to Jindal it was the moratorium that resulted in the economic calamity, not the oil spill that necessitated the moratorium. In other words, the problem is industry regulation, not the lack thereof. That's the same wrongheaded thinking that got us into this mess, but Jindal's flawed logic doesn't end there. More problematic is the premise of his argument: that the people of Louisiana have no future beyond oil, that everyone has to accept the risks of deepwater drilling to keep the economy going. It's a strain of logic that really shows more contempt than support for working families.
A job is not a good job just because it offers money. And an industry is not a good industry just because it offers jobs. Like the drug trade, deepwater drilling offers no essential benefits to society except employment. You might argue that we currently need oil, but the same can't be said of deepwater oil. It can't free us from dependence on OPEC oil, it doesn't cut the cost of oil, and if anything it's a national security liability.
Economic justice for the Gulf coast means a lot more than the availability of jobs. It means the availability of sustainable jobs in sustainable industries that will always support and never imperil the health of communities, economies and the environment. The people of the gulf deserve an economy that does not necessitate the acceptance of unacceptable risks in order to get people paid.
Switching to a green economy won't be easy for an oil state like Louisiana, but it is possible. The 2009 PERI report for example estimated that the clean energy bill passed by the House last year could result in a net gain of 30,000 green jobs for Louisiana. That's good news for us oil junkies, and good news for the gulf coast. With congressional action we can kick the deepwater habit, and end up with more jobs than we had before.