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More Oil? Cheap Gas? Now is the Time to Make Tough Choices

Cordova, Alaska. When President Obama said, during a speech on environment and climate change, “America will not be held hostage to dwindling resources, hostile regimes, and a warming planet,” people across the country grew hopeful that we were, at last, charting a course away from fossil fuels. And we certainly can. But it will require some unprecedented action from Congress, and from you, to give our new president support to make this change. That’s because the reality is that, right now, Americans are being held hostage to dwindling resources and climate meltdown exactly because of the hostile regimes of Big Oil and Big Coal.

This month, we’ve been given an opportunity to start changing that. The U.S. Department of Interior is asking Americans if we want to drill for oil and gas in our coastal oceans – the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Arctic. We can either take this opportunity to voice an opinion – or ignore it. But ignoring it would be a big mistake because the Obama Administration and Congress would then make the decision without ample citizen input. And that could be a disaster, because – even in a time of clear and present danger precipitated by burning fossil fuels – Congress has failed to reach consensus and give us a comprehensive vision of our energy future.

The reason is simple: too many politicians owe allegiance to Big Oil and Big Coal instead of the American people. Further, armies of corporate lobbyists deep in Big Oil’s pockets work to block efforts to – God forbid! – reduce our dependency on oil. For every member of Congress, there are now four climate lobbyists, working feverishly to block or water down any effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Citizens are understandably confused about the options before us. Polls are skewed to influence public opinion and confuse our understanding of the dangers involved in offshore drilling by not honestly stating issues. For example, public hysteria in favor of drilling was primed by the loaded question: Do we need to drill America’s coastal seas for oil so we will have lower gas prices at the pump? Yet the facts remain that permission to drill offshore would not provide gas consumers with immediate financial relief.

People would have clamored to get off oil had the issues been honestly stated. Perhaps we should ask: Do we need to drill America’s coastal seas for oil to further enrich Big Oil? To further reduce our chances of reversing and surviving climate meltdown? To give more children asthma or to have more adults die premature deaths from illnesses related to breathing ultrafine particles – soot and oil emissions – ubiquitous in urban air from school buses, cars, and coal- or oil-fired power plants? (,

With our nation in the throes of economic crisis, it’s easy to think that any business is good for the economy. Offshore oil drilling, tar sands, oil shales, whatever: bring it on. Anything sounds good as long as it has a positive economic return.

But more of the same will not work. Burning fossil fuels is what got us into this mess of climate meltdown, if you agree with thousands of non-industry funded scientists. Even if you don’t agree, it is better to err on the side of caution, especially with so much at stake.

So who is pushing for more drilling? Who is leading America into this evolutionary dead end of increased reliance of even dirtier coal and oils? Big Oil and Big Coal, of course.

Einstein observed, “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.” It is no surprise that oil corporations see America’s future as more of the same – crude oil and coal or, as conventional oil becomes increasingly scarce, then the energy- and ecologically intensive tar sands and oil shales.

One of the most hostile regimes to sustaining life and the planet is ExxonMobil, the so-called T. rex of the hydrocarbon age (after CEO Rex Tillerson). According to Exxon’s magical thinking, the world is awash in oil, climate meltdown is a natural geologic cycle, and there is no need for alternative energy. “We’re not in that business,” Tillerson stated at the company’s 2007 annual meeting.

T. rex is one of the largest corporate predators on the planet. Driven by corporate tunnel vision and profits, Exxon operates more single-hull tankers than the other top nine oil companies combined , ignoring risk to the world’s oceans. It is the largest importer of Middle Eastern oil to the U.S., ignoring risk to U.S. security. It is one of the (if not the) largest sponsor of propaganda from climate critics, ignoring risk of climate meltdown. And much of its untapped reserves, waiting to be developed, are unconventional “dirty” gas and oil such as the Canadian tar sands that will produce, when burned, three to five times more greenhouse gases than conventional crude.

If Exxon is not in the business of alternative energy, it should step aside for those who are – but that is not the nature of a hostile regime. It won’t step aside until forced to do so. Why should it? T. rex is the largest and most profitable oil company in business – at the planet’s expense.

Change starts with us, the American people, and we have a perfect opportunity now for radical reform on many levels. Obama cannot free America from the tyranny of Big Oil and Big Coal without lots of support from the people. Let’s not fool ourselves. Now is the time for tough choices.

“Vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a nightmare,” states a Japanese proverb. First and foremost, America needs a national energy plan that achieves the people’s vision of a sustainable future – passing a living and livable planet to future generations. Asking the public to comment on a plan to produce more oil is getting the cart before the horse.

All action, then, must be compatible with that vision. We should request moratoria on dirty oil and gas – tar sands, oil shales, and sour gas. We should reinstate the ban on offshore drilling. Weaning ourselves off other people’s oil and not further encouraging this Last Century industry in our country should coincide with starting energy conservation programs and growing green energy businesses that make the best use of resources at hand in each region.

At a minimum, drilling in coastal seas should be banned in areas where oil companies have no or limited ability to clean up spills – the entire Arctic Ocean – and in areas with resources more valuable than oil – such as commercial fishing (Bristol Bay, Alaska) or tourism and recreation (Atlantic and Pacific coasts). Further, every single new oil and gas program should have a mandated citizen oversight council, modeled after the successful ones in Alaska instituted after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Human rights and community values need to trump corporate profits. Every American who is old enough to write should be commenting on what you want for energy resources and development in America’s Outer Continental Shelf. Let the Obama Administration and Congress know what you want in our energy future—and what you don’t want.

Send written comments electronically at, or by mail to Ms. Renee Orr, Chief, Leasing Division, Mineral Management Service, MS 4010, 318 Elden Street, Herndon, VA 20170-4817. Copy your congressional delegation.

Exxon-Valdez spill survivor, author, and scientist Riki Ott shares insights on making human values count over corporate profits in Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (Chelsea Green, 2008) and on her website:

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