Oil spill changes everything

Originally posted on CNN.com on May 1.

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Michael Brune

Editor's note: Michael Brune is
executive director of the Sierra Club and former director of the
Rainforest Action Network.

The oil disaster
plaguing the Gulf of Mexico and our coastal states puts our desperate
need for a new clean energy economy in stark relief. We need to move
away from dirty, dangerous and deadly energy sources.

We are
pleased that the White House is now saying it will suspend any new
offshore drilling while the explosion and spill are investigated, but
there should be no doubt left that drilling will only harm our coasts
and the people who live there.

Taking a temporary break from
offshore drilling is an important step, but it's not enough. We need to
stop new offshore drilling for good, now. And then we need an aggressive
plan to wean America from dirty fossil fuels in the next two decades.

This BP offshore rig that exploded was supposed to be
state-of-the-art. We've also been assured again and again that the
hundreds of offshore drilling rigs along our beaches are
completely safe. Now, we've seen workers tragically killed. We've seen
our ocean lit on fire, and now we're watching hundreds of thousands of
gallons of toxic oil seep toward wetlands and wildlife habitat.

This
rig's well is leaking 210,000 gallons of crude every day,
wiping out aquatic life and smothering the coastal wetlands of Louisiana
and Mississippi. As the reeking slick spreads over thousands of square
miles of ocean, it rapidly approaches the title of worst environmental
disaster in U.S. history, even worse than 1989's Exxon
Valdez
oil spill. The well is under 5,000 feet of water, and it
could take weeks or even months to cap it.

This disaster could
unfortunately happen at any one of the hundreds of drilling platforms
off our coasts, at any moment. It could happen at the drilling sites
that the oil industry has proposed opening along the beaches of the
Atlantic Coast.

Indeed, even before this spill, the oil and gas industry had torn
apart the coastal wetlands of the Louisiana Bayou over the years. These
drilling operations have caused Louisiana to lose 25 square miles of
coastal wetlands, which are natural storm barriers, each year.

Another
view: Why it won't be easy to replace fossil fuels

And it's
hardly just the environmental costs of oil spills that we have to worry
about with offshore drilling. The threat to the people who work on these
platforms has again become terribly clear. In fact, more than 500 fires
on oil platforms in the Gulf have injured or killed dozens of workers
in just the past four years, according to the federal Minerals
Management Service.

We don't need to pay this price for energy.
We have plenty of clean energy solutions in place that will end our
dependence on dirty fossil fuels, create good, safe jobs and breathe new
life into our economy.

One huge example came Thursday, when the
Obama administration approved our country's first offshore wind farm.

Our country has huge solar power potential as well. We can also save
more oil through simple efficiency measures than could be recovered by
new drilling on our coastlines.

This oil spill changes
everything. We have hit rock-bottom in our fossil fuel addiction. This
tragedy should be a wake-up call. It's time to take offshore drilling
off the table for good.

The opinions
expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Brune.

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