08/03/2010 05:48 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Enough Already With The Oil Spills!

I've had it with oil spills. Please, people, get us some safe, clean energy and let's step on it.

My NRDC colleague, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, writes here: "What is going on with Big Oil this year? The Gulf. Spills in Minnesota and Salt Lake City. And now, very bad news from Michigan, where crews are cleaning up after yet another major oil infrastructure failure. According to the Detroit Free-Press, an estimated 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil has spilled from a pipeline into the Kalamazoo River and a nearby creek." (Actually over 100 spills or leaking pipes are reported every year).

Tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada are a gooey mixture of earth and oil that has long been difficult to develop profitably, but is now being mined from the earth (in a fashion that rivals Mountain Top Removal in its destructiveness) and piped by TransCanada, a Calgary-based pipeline and energy company, into the Great Lakes Region to refine. And if they get permission, tar sands oil will be piped all the way to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. Unbelievable.

Fortunately, the State Department said it would delay its decision on the permit until a full environmental impact assessment and inter-agency consultation could occur.

It's not hard to imagine the environmental and health impacts associated with TransCanada's tar sands project. A "pollution delivery system that threatens our air and water quality, as well as human health in the region" is how researchers at the University of Toronto describe the network of transcontinental pipelines connecting the tar sands in Alberta with the massive refineries in the heartland of the U.S. according to Josh Mogerman's blog post here. The more carbon-rich tar sands "are responsible for 3 times more greenhouse gas pollution as conventional crude oil," Mogerman writes, and their extraction "is destroying vast swaths of Canada." "If you live near one of the massive refineries that are being retooled to deal with this stuff, you are going to be seeing more asthma and respiratory problems in your community." And don't forget the water, Mogerman warns: "if we let nasty pollutants go up into the air all around the Great Lakes---well, what goes up, must come down---and it will come down, into the drinking water source for ore than 30 million Americans (and plenty of Canadians too)."

What do we want with all that? That's what the U.S. Conference of Mayors asked in 2008 and why they approved a resolution saying that they did not want to use high carbon fuels such as tar sands, liquid coal and oil shale in their cities and asked for help from state and federal authorities to better track fuels.

Determined to do whatever they can to combat climate change, mayors across America are working hard to move their cities forward toward clean, renewable energy sources and not backwards which is where tar sands will take us. According to a new report from NRDC Smarter Cities, 22 US cities are leading the way in green power, energy efficiency, and conservation, Chicago, Ill, a Great Lakes city, among them. Chicago is moving aggressively to make its buildings energy efficient, including through vegetated rooftops, to encourage conservation among its citizens and to advance a "smarter power grid" that provides energy to businesses and residents through a local source rather than through the power plants, what is known in the industry as "distributed generation."

I'm disillusioned with our U.S. Senate for not taking up the most modest of energy and climate bills that would have encouraged investment in job-creating clean energy and reduce our dependence on dirty fuels. I'm further dismayed that there are some in Congress that would like to see the Clean Air Act weakened in order to avoid tough controls on global warming gases emitted from the burning of dirty fuels.

Please people! Listen to average American voters. As this recent poll shows, we want action now. If Congress doesn't get it, this administration must. We've got to treat heat-trapping gases like the pollutants that they are; toughen up the regulations of dirty fuels; help our cities and towns become more energy efficient; and invest in companies that are developing clean renewable energy.

This isn't about politics, it's about people, livelihoods and quality of life here in the U.S. So let's just get to it, in our cities and towns, in our schools and homes and office buildings. Let's wean ourselves of fossil fuels and put America on a competitive path to the future. That's why Smarter Cities is next looking at transportation, as it is the second largest source of CO2 emissions in the U.S., with cars and trucks accounting for almost 2/3 of emissions from the sector.