No Political Will

The New York Times, on its Caucus blog tonight reports that Congressional Democrats have abandoned not only sweeping clean energy policy but also a whittled down version that would serve as a response to the BP oil spill, which was recently determined to be the largest accidental spill in history.

The piece quotes Sen. John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, who worked on comprehensive energy legislation, characterizing America’s so-called oil addiction as a non-partisan issue:

“Ask anyone outside of Washington, and they’ll tell you that this isn’t a Democrat or a Republican issue, it’s an American issue,” Mr. Kerry said. “It’s American troops whose lives are endangered because we’re dependent on oil companies in countries that hate us. It’s American consumers who are tired not just of prices at the pump that soar each summer, but sick and tired of our oil dependency that makes Iran $100 million richer every day that Washington fails to respond.”

He’s right on all counts except for one: it’s very much a partisan issue when the obstacle facing clean energy legislation–the Republican Party–has absolutely no interest in clean energy.

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Five Hours of Oil Consumption?

NPR just reported that the five million gallons of oil that spilled in the Gulf of Mexico since April 20—the largest accidental oil spill in history—is equal to five hours of oil consumption in the U.S.

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NYT: BP Spill Largest Accidental Spill in History

The five million barrels of oil that have flowed from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well since rupturing on April 20 now represents the largest “accidental release of oil” in history, according to the New York Times, out-polluting the Ixtoc 1, the Mexican rig that collapsed in June 1979.

From the New York Times:

“Federal science and engineering teams estimated that 53,000 barrels of oil per day were pouring from the well just before BP was able to cap it on July 15. They also estimated that the daily flow rate had lessened over time, starting at around 62,000 barrels a day and decreasing as the reservoir of hydrocarbons feeding the gusher was gradually depleted.

The teams believe that the estimates are accurate to within 10 percent. They also reported that of the roughly 4.9 million barrels that had been released from the well, about 800,000 had been captured by BP’s previous containment efforts. That leaves over four million barrels that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico between April 20 and July 15.”

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Independence from Oil

Don’t lose hope! We are doing some things that can help reduce oil dependence. From the awesome environmental news website Grist, a list of 10 fresh ideas that can help set you free from oil:

With the Fourth of July approaching, let us pause and consider the words of that great patriot Sarah Palin:

“Americans are not addicted to oil, Americans are addicted to freedom — the freedom to move freely and independently where and when we want.”

Makes you want to go out and drive a Hummer in circles, no?

But since, let’s face it, we are addicted to oil, here are 10 ideas that have popped up in the past month, which provide a glimpse of fossil-fuel freedom.

1. Power to the pedal: Sure, bike lanes are nice, but peddlers still have to expose themselves to way too many DWAACPs (Drivers With Attitudes and Cell Phones). The time has come, argues Tom Vanderbilt in Slate, for honest-to-God bicycle boulevards in the U.S.:

There have been many protracted debates in the transportation world about what sort of facilities are safest for cyclists (a picture that is complicated by the recent finding, for example, that drivers seem to drive closer to cyclists on streets with bike lanes than without). One thing that seems clear, however, is that cyclist safety tends to improve as there are more cyclists. And the best way to get more cyclists is to make them feel safer. And the way to make them feel safer is, many planners argue, to provide separate facilities.

2. Float, baby, float: One way of capturing energy from strong ocean breezes is to build deepwater wind farms. Tricky, but Dominique Roddier, a California naval architect, has a way to do it: floating turbines.

3. Kite makes light: Joby Energy, another California player, has a prototype for large wind turbines that soar — like kites — high enough to harvest energy from powerful global wind currents.

4. Light lite: Royal Phillips Electronics has unveiled the 12-watt EnduraLED, the first low-wattage LED bulb that achieves the brightness of the classic 60-watt incandescent.

5. Think we need a little less Xbox: Most of us have no idea how much energy we use in our home until the bill comes in. But Cisco just rolled out the “Home Energy Controller.” It’s a a little dashboard, complete with touchscreen, that lets you track where and how you’re burning energy — and how much it’s costing you — in real time.

6. Turn the heat around: You know all that heat your car engine produces — and wastes? Well, a team of MIT engineers has come up with a way to convert it into enough energy to power the vehicle’s electronic systems.

7. Another bright idea: Who needs flashlights? Now you can go off the grid and still see in the dark, thanks to a new, small solar light bulb created by Nokero.

8. Battery up! Other MIT researchers have found a way to use carbon nanotubes to dramatically ratchet up the power and capacity of lithium batteries.

9. What’s it all about, algae? The Energy Department this past week handed out $24 million in research grants to scientists trying to turn algae into a biofuel.

10. You make me feel like a natural lumen: And finally, the Federal Trade Commission just approved a proposal to put new labels on light bulb packages. Unlike the the nutritional info food wrappers, light labels will note bulb brightness in lumens instead of watts, which will allow us consumers to buy bulbs that burn just as bright, but use less energy.

Happy (Energy) Independence Day!

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Lake Pontchartrain

So now oil has finally reached Lake Pontchartrain, the lake along the north side of New Orleans. You know, as if New Orleans hasn’t had enough bad luck in recent years.

I’m a Yankee. I’m one of those Yankees who walks fast, curses a lot, uses Yiddish words, and starts exhibiting withdrawal symptoms when outside the New York metro area for any length of time. But I’ve been lucky enough to have had the chance to visit a lot of places in the United States, all of them incredible in their own way. After I finished college, I went to Louisiana a couple of times to visit a friend who had a job down there. It was like a different country. And I’ve been to real different countries. It was swampy, lawless, and exotic. There was music, and booze, and seafood, and droopy trees. And alligators. ALLIGATORS! And even for a fast-walking foul-mouthed Jewish girl from New Jersey, it was easy to see why the place holds such such a special place in the hearts of so many.

Lake Pontchartrain is a huge lake, and the land bridge that bisects it — the Land Pontchartrain Causeway — is 24 miles long, the longest bridge over a body of water in the world. Driving over it, you feel like you’re driving over the ocean.

The damage we inflict on these places for our short-sighted desires is sometimes hard to understand from far away. But these are real places, with real people, and real cultures with history and beauty and music all their own that deserve respect and care and awe. And we need to keep that in mind when we buy gas, and move to a place where we have to drive everywhere, and do any number of other things that feed the beast of our addiction.

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Spill Cuts Into BP Sales

While it’s never been the intention of TRUE Independence Day to explicitly support disrupting the business of BP service stations, other gas station or any oil-based enterprise for that matter, it’s telling that people have found a little protest can begin to make dents — but is it making dents in the wrong place?

This nugget from Bloomberg (, arriving on the same day that AP reports that tar balls have washed up on the Texas shore, thus making the BP oil spill felt on all Gulf shores, makes clear that consumer sentiment can be commercially memetic. According to hearsay, the article reports, sales at BP service stations in Gulf-area locations alone is down 30 percent, and that a $60 million aid package offered by BP Plc. to BP-brand gas stations is having little impact. The aid package, the article reports, amounts to roughly $5,200 per station.

I have to admit that I, like so many Americans, when faced with a choice as to where to buy my gas (and there are many, many choices) that I do not fill up at BP anymore. I realize that this is not particularly useful when it comes to encouraging real change in national energy policy, but that the same time, that ol’ righteous rage, which is usually misguided and gut-based, surfaces and makes me wonder why should I give my money to BP of all places right now?

But when we use our brains, it’s understood that starving service stations is not necessarily how to effect a transition in policy. Unlike in Arizona, where some prominent organizations have taken the boycott route to to take a stand against new immigration laws, there is just too much, when it comes to our nation’s energy policy, that we would have to “boycott.” At the outset of this campaign, we said that supporting a change in energy policy is not akin to putting ma and pop out of business, and it’s still not. So why are we inclined to act at the pump? And why do we discriminate when it comes to which brand of pump we boycott? Is filling up at Shell, or Exxon really any better?

There needs to be a better way to express our concern. It begins by calling your legislator at 877-762-8762.

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We Are What We Eat…and Drill For

There has been no lack of scary news in recent years about toxic fish, overfishing, ocean dead zones, and the complete collapse of entire fish populations that have left me wondering if we might have to suffer in a future world without seafood at all. With the Gulf of Mexico supplying 72% of U.S. harvested shrimp, 66% of harvested oysters, and 16% of commercial fish (Potash and Phosphate Institutes of the U.S. and Canada, 1999), the oil spill is undoubtedly doing serious damage to the way our entire country will be able to eat for decades to come. And now they’ve found the inevitable — oil droplets in crab larvae from the Gulf. These crabs are at the bottom of our complex food chain, making all of us unwilling and unwitting guinea pigs in BP’s massive environmental health experiement. With oil-soaked fish on our dinner plates and chemical dispersants potentially getting into the rain clouds up and down the entire east coast, will anything be safe to eat?

At this rate, even the Soylent Green is going to be toxic.

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