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Learning from our Mistakes

Prudhoe Bay proves that even well-intentioned regulations will not prevent spills and other environmental damage.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will meet today, and the House Infrastructure Committee will meet tomorrow, to discuss the causes and impacts of the BP Prudhoe Bay pipeline spills. This comes on the heels of Chevron’s announcement this week that it believes it can tap into deep water oil reserves in the Gulf of Mexico. The three to fifteen billion barrels that this could yield make it the biggest American oil discovery since Prudhoe Bay in 1967.

In the years to come, once Chevron can build the infrastructure to extract and transport oil from their new discovery, the resources could make a small dent in decreasing America’s dependence on foreign oil. Yet, if Prudhoe Bay has taught the United States a lesson, it is that the oil industry is a dirty business. Even the most well-intentioned regulations will not prevent spills and other environmental damage.

The federal government, unfortunately, has a spotty record of enforcing environmental regulations of the oil industry, and most oil companies have long histories of breaking safety and environmental laws. Drilling is particularly detrimental to fragile ecosystems like the wildlife refuges in Alaska and our nation’s coasts.

The only way to ensure a sustainable energy future is to stop relying so heavily on foreign oil sources and domestic ones with indeterminate life spans and detrimental environmental effects. In multiple reports, the Center for American Progress has urged the federal government to unite with citizens, businesses, and environmental groups to reshape the energy landscape in order to create a stronger economy, a safer world, and a cleaner environment. Four broad goals can and should be the cornerstones of America’s energy future:

1. Dramatically reducing oil consumption by the transportation sector, which accounts for about two-thirds of American oil use.

2. Enhancing domestic energy supplies by making more significant investments in clean, renewable energy sources such as biomass, wind, geothermal, and solar energy.

3. Better utilizing current energy sources by adopting efficient technologies, modernizing the energy grid, and promoting energy research in order to reduce costs for consumers and businesses.

4. Reasserting American leadership on climate change by teaming up with allies like Great Britain to limit emissions and provide incentives to developing countries to join the effort.

During hearings this week, the federal government must begin to learn from its mistakes and take steps toward real solutions to America’s energy crisis.

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