Here's an irony for you: The same ocean breezes that are pushing oil onto the beaches and wetlands of the Gulf of Mexico could be helping to power our country and reduce our dependence on those very fossil fuels.
But even in the face of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, many stubbornly claim that offshore drilling is still the answer to our energy problems. One of the objections I hear most often from skeptics of offshore wind power is, "Sure, it sounds good, but it's not a viable source of energy at this point."
Here's the truth: we have the technology in our back pocket. But in our front pocket -- like forgotten, crumpled dollar bills -- are policies that incentivize dirty energy. For decades, the U.S. government has provided billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies to the oil industry.
Under existing policies, the industry will receive at least $36.5 billion in taxpayer money over the next decade. Meanwhile, between 2006 and 2009 BP's profits totaled nearly $125 billion . In contrast, the total cost of the ongoing disaster so far is $3.5 billion. According to a market analyst, BP may survive the second quarter with no significant change in net debt. In essence, the company could get off scot-free financially while the gulf suffers, which is an astonishing thought.
So where is our government's support for alternative energy? Federal support for wind research and development is expected to be just $75 million this year, which is a paltry amount compared to the $469 million given to fossil fuels.
Believe it or not, the U.S. pioneered wind technologies, yet we have fallen behind Europe and China in using wind to power our country. When the Cape Wind project was proposed a decade ago, no federal agency even had the clear authority to lead its permitting process. At the same time, Europe had already been using offshore wind turbines for nearly a decade.
Ten years later, the future of offshore wind is still in question, in part because the agency running the show is the one formerly known as the Minerals Management Service, the agency also in charge of offshore drilling.
Though Cape Wind recently won a federal permit, it is still far from completion. To date, not a single offshore wind farm is operating in the U.S., and that should make every American ashamed and angry.
It's time for a change.
The Obama administration should ensure that promoting wind finally gets priority over permitting more dirty fossil fuels. Congress must increase funding for research and development of offshore wind, provide stable tax and investment incentives, and create a predictable, practical regulatory structure. We need to take the lead in the growing offshore wind market.
Yes, all offshore wind projects need adequate environmental review. But many of the concerns that have been raised about offshore wind's environmental impacts - including aesthetic and noise concerns -- seem downright laughable compared to the millions of gallons of oil staining the Gulf of Mexico's wildlife and economy and the impacts of fossil fuels in driving climate change and ocean acidification.
So send that message to Obama and Congress -- join the more than 130,000 people who have signed Oceana's petition to stop offshore drilling today.
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