Beyond Petroleum – How communities and decision makers are responding to the Gulf oil disaster

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | June 15, 2010 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Offshore Drilling

Although the oil continues to gush and new photographs of oil-soaked birds and wetlands are circulated daily, some residents and leaders in the Gulf region are looking beyond the current petroleum disaster to seek needed long-term solutions.

Tonight hundreds of people (organizers report upwards of 500 RSVP’s as of this morning) will gather in St. Petersburg for a community forum to learn more about the impacts of the still-unfolding Gulf oil spill from both an academic and media perspective.  Then attendees will begin a dialogue about a range of policy and technological solutions that are needed to ensure that the United States moves away from high-risk energy sources, such as offshore drilling, in favor of energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy options.

At 8 p.m. EST this evening, President Obama will deliver his first Oval Office address to the nation.  He has chosen to speak about his most recent two-day tour of the Gulf of Mexico.  Some say that the President’s address will be similar to a ‘battlefield update’; the “kind of address give by past presidents on national tragedies.  Not only will the 500+ audience members at this community forum in Florida be watching, but so will the nation.  We are all waiting for answers and hopefully we will finally get some this evening.

Meanwhile, some regional decision makers are offering their own strategies for mitigating this disaster and moving beyond our petroleum addiction.  In the  days just after the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sunk, Florida’s Senator Bill Nelson began calling for an immediate halt to all test wells and exploratory drilling in coastal waters until the situation could be better understood.  In a letter to President Obama dated April 29, 2010, Sen. Nelson states that

It’s unclear whether any additional well shut-off controls would have made a difference in this case.  But the questions about the practices of the oil industry raised in the wake of this still-unfolding incident require that you postpone indefinitely plans for expanded drilling operations.

In addition, Sen. Nelson was among the first voices calling for BP to show a live video feed of the gushing well head – and now posts a rotation of the various live underwater feeds every day, all day on his Senate website.

Another Florida champion in the wake of this spill is Tampa Bay Congresswoman Kathy Castor. In May, Rep. Castor re-filed  the ‘Florida Coastal Protection Act of 2010’ (H.R. 5358) to permanently prohibit drilling off the Gulf Coast and Straits of Florida.  She also joined with Representatives Pallone (NJ) and Garamendi (CA) to introduce the ‘No New Drilling Act of 2010‘ (H.R. 5248).   SACE is hopeful that either or both of these bills could become legislative pathways to permanently protect much of our oceans, beaches and coastal economies from the harmful impacts of offshore drilling while welcoming visitors to spend tourist dollars enjoying the coast.

With some luck, plenty of vocal support from concerned citizens and considerable leadership from these and other elected officials, the time may finally be at hand to move boldly into a clean energy economy.

For more information about tonight’s community forum, please visit the Florida Business Network for a Clean Energy Economy or join us at The Palladum in St. Petersburg.

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