The cost of fossil fuels is far too high

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From an opinion piece by Keith Reopelle of Clean Wisconsin in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The scale of the environmental and economic disaster caused by the recent explosion of BP's deepwater horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico is nearly too great to comprehend. This oil spill, however, is just one example of the unacceptably high cost of continuing to depend on dirty fossil fuels and the urgent need to begin transitioning toward clean, renewable energy.

The April 20 oil rig explosion killed 11 workers, releasing nearly 2 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf and covering an area seven times the size of Waukesha County in a thick, black oil slick. We all watched helplessly as oil entered coastal waters, contaminating fragile ecosystems that provide vital habitat for sea birds, turtles, marine mammals, fish and many endangered species.

The spill crippled the Gulf Coast seafood industry, where fishing and shrimp boats now remain moored to piers. The environmental catastrophe will exact a heavy toll on the area's tourism industry for years.

The heavy cost of this spill will spread well beyond the Gulf Coast region. It will increase the price and decrease the availability of seafood nationally. It also will likely cause price increases in many common items like coffee, bananas and tires by disrupting major shipping lanes.

The scale and reach of this disaster illustrate the unacceptably high risks of expanding offshore oil exploration, and former proponents of offshore exploration - including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger - are now withdrawing their support.

Unfortunately, the oil spill is not the only catastrophe in recent weeks resulting from our dependence on fossil fuels. People across the nation recently mourned the loss of life after an accident at a Kentucky coal mine killed two miners only weeks after a tragic mine explosion in West Virginia killed 29.

The Gulf oil spill and the recent coal mining tragedies make it impossible to ignore the high costs of our continued reliance on fossil fuels. However, these are far from being the only costs brought by our dependence on fossil fuels.

The environmental, economic and health costs of burning coal in power plants and petroleum in cars are enormous. Here in Wisconsin, the costs are less visible than a massive oil slick, but staggering nonetheless.