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26th Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez: Let's Learn From That Tragedy

I wish I could say that it was a pleasure to be here in front of the White House today. Unfortunately, we're here because we seem to have learned nothing in the decades since the Exxon Valdez. That disaster showed the difficulty of cleaning up after a catastrophic oil spill, especially one that takes place in Alaska. The human communities and the wildlife that depend on Prince William Sound still haven’t recovered. The Arctic Ocean is far more remote than Prince William Sound, and the massive environmental damage that followed the rupture of the Exxon Valdez forebodes the kind of damage will inevitably follow if we allow offshore drilling in a place where large-scale oil spills are inevitable, the Arctic Ocean.

Drilling in the Arctic Ocean poses an unacceptable threat of catastrophic accidents. It also poses risks to our climate -- risks on a scale that no responsible nation would run. Numerous scientific studies now show that if we are going to avoid climate catastrophe, at least two-thirds of all fossil fuels must remain in the ground. That includes all of the dirty fuels that lie beneath the Arctic Ocean. Drilling the Arctic Ocean could release twice as much carbon pollution as the amount that will be prevented by the Obama Administration's increased fuel economy standards – undermining the climate progress we’ve made so far.

In an Arctic region that is warming at twice the rate of the Lower 48 states, the cause for concern about new carbon pollution sources is immediate and real. The rest of us have reason to be concerned as well. The Arctic acts as refrigerator for the Northern Hemisphere. Melting ice is leading to rising sea levels, more extreme weather events and changes in the Jet Stream, changes that are already being felt across the U.S. Simply stated, the Arctic is the last place we should be drilling for oil. The Obama Administration must consider all the risks--including risks to our climate—and it must take more action to move America away from dirty fuels and further down the safe, sane path of clean energy.

On this 26th anniversary, let us show we've learned the lessons of the Exxon Valdez tragedy rather than repeating it. Let us say no to new dirty fuel projects that threaten our wild places, our communities and our climate. In 2015, the ugly consequences of our dependence on dirty energy couldn’t be more clear, nor could the benefits of choosing the clean energy path be more obvious. Let history show that when we came to know the catastrophic risks of dependence on dirty fuels, we changed course and we chose more wisely – we chose to move to clean energy.

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David Scott

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