It’s Time to Own Up and Electrify

Editor in chief
TERESA HANSEN

As I write this editorial, the BP PLC “gulf oil disaster” is entering its third month. The national news programs are covering it day and night, 24/7. I think half the politicians and all the so-called experts have been interviewed—many several times. Most of them have an opinion about who is to blame for the worst environmental catastrophe our nation has experienced.

Many have said that the president should have jumped on the situation sooner and done more to hold BP responsible. People have said this is President Barack Obama’s Hurricane Katrina. The experts and politicians aren’t the only ones with opinions about who is to blame; most of us have an opinion. Between the greedy big oil company, the administration and politicians (democrat or republican, take your pick), there are plenty of people to blame.

I heard reports a few days ago claiming that by trying to cut costs and speed up production, BP cut corners that likely caused the oil rig explosion, setting off this crisis. Should this surprise us? I haven’t heard anyone complaining that we aren’t paying enough for gasoline at the pump and we need to increase prices so oil companies drilling in the Gulf of Mexico’s deep waters can slow down, spend more money and make the process safer for workers on the rigs and thousands of animal species in the costal waters. That’s absurd. We want cheap oil. We remember summer 2008 when prices at the pump topped $4 a gallon in most places, and even $5 in some. Just like now, we blamed big oil, the administration and politicians.

BP certainly needs to shoulder part of the blame, but it is not alone. All of us who drive automobiles are also to blame for damaging our gulf coast, destroying the ecosystem, killing the region’s wildlife and putting livelihoods in jeopardy. Each time we pull into the gas station and fill up, we’re condoning deep off-shore oil drilling. We can act outraged like we did after Sept. 11, but our actions don’t show it. It’s vacation season, and we need to keep prices at the pump reasonable.

For some time, our actions have shown that we’re fine with sending billions of dollars each year to regions of the world where terrorists are plotting more 9/11-type attacks on our soil and with sending our men and women to unstable, dangerous countries to ensure the coveted oil we need makes it to our refineries. So far our actions show that we’re OK with the risks of drilling oil wells 5,000-plus feet under water. After all, the other deep offshore rigs still pump as much oil as they can as fast as they can so we can fill up our tanks for less than $3 a gallon.

The only people we can blame possibly more than ourselves are the people we sent to Washington, D.C.—the politicians who failed to pass a comprehensive energy bill addressing our dependence on oil, not just foreign oil, but all oil. The same people who are grilling BP executives. For decades our government has subsidized oil companies because we needed the oil. We didn’t have a choice. Things have changed, however, and now we have choices. It’s time for us to transform our transportation fleet to electricity. The technology has advanced to a point where, even today, many of us could function fine with an electric car. And great strides are still being made with battery, electricity generation and grid technologies that will allow us to make this move.

We must pressure our elected officials to incentivize entrepreneurs and drive investment in this area. Automobile manufacturers and electric utilities should unite to make this transition easy and even exciting for consumers. Those of us in the electricity industry have the opportunity to help make our world better.

Instead of pointing fingers, let’s admit that we consumers of gasoline (and plastic water bottles and grocery bags, too) are responsible for this problem, and we need to be part of the solution. We should push lawmakers to finally pass a comprehensive energy bill, or we should send someone else to Capitol Hill. I’ve heard many reporters say that Americans are fed up and frustrated. Time will tell if we’re fed up enough to make a change.

 

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