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March 30, 2011

We Can - and Will - Move Beyond Oil

With the latest off-shore drilling permits issued, the fighting in Congress about high gas prices continuing, and the rememberance of the 22nd anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, you can't go far in today's news without hearing more about our oil problems.

We are addicted to oil - but we can (and will!) break this addiction. Three events happened today related to our oil addiction: a Sierra Club briefing on Capitol Hill about the health impacts our oil problem, President Obama's energy policy speech, and we helped release a new report entitled "Cleaner Cars, Less Foreign Oil" with the Center for American Progress and the League of Conservation Voters.

Panel speakers

Speakers at the Sierra Club "Health Effects of Oil" briefing. L to R: Bethany Kraft, Dr. Kristen Welker-Hood, Casi Callaway, Dr. Delores Leonard, and Mark Pelavin.

Phew! Let's start with the briefing on the health impacts of our addiction to oil. From drilling to refining to cars, oil impacts the health of Americans across the country in many ways.


As gas prices rise and debate focuses on how to address our dependence on oil, we have to understand the true cost of our crippling addiction to oil - costs that cannot be eradicated through more drilling or new pipelines.

Speakers at the briefing included:
 
·    Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club
·    Dr. Kristen Welker-Hood, Director, Environment and Health Program, Physicians for Social Responsibility
·    Dr. Dolores Leonard, impacted community member, Detroit, Michigan
·    Bethany Kraft, Executive Director, Alabama Coastal Foundation
·    Mark Pelavin, Director, Commission on Social Action, Religious Action Center
·    Casi Callaway, Executive Director and Baykeeper, Mobile Baykeeper
 
PSR Dr. Welker-Hood (pictured left) brought the science in this discussion. "Refineries are the largest stationary source of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), the primary precursor of smog," she explained.

She warned that the health effects of our oil addiction (air pollution and much more) can lead to "dramatic impacts on human respiratory and cardiovascular systems."

Dr. Delores Leonard from Detroit spoke about her neighbohood in Detroit (where she's lived since 1955), know as the "most polluted zip code in Michigan." The community is surrounded by oil refineries, highways and other industry with toxic emissions, and the health effects are grave. One school had to be moved because of the tremendously high asthma rate for its students.

Delores Leonard Dr. Leonard (pictured at the right) works closely with our Sierra Club Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships program in Detroit - and is a true fighter for her community. Her statements were powerful.

"What we must all remember is that pollution is a matter of economics - profits. As long as we recognize that we, the people, are fighting big business and politicians because this is pure economics, we can see our way clear."


I also especially enjoyed hearing from Mark Pelavin of the Religious Action Center. "Human health and environmental health are inseparable," said Pelavin. "The religious community stands shoulder to shoulder with you for a better energy policy."

Today's briefing was the first in a series that will examine the dangers of our addiction to oil and how we can move beyond oil. Future topics will include impacts of offshore drilling, transportation solutions, and protecting natural resources and enriching local economies.

Traffic2 Meanwhile, the Sierra Club also jointly released a new report entitled "Cleaner Cars, Less Foreign Oil" with the Center for American Progress and the League of Conservation Voters. It calls for President Obama and Congress to set firm targets for cutting foreign oil use, further improve fuel economy standards and invest in transportation choices, end tax loopholes for Big Oil, and crack down on oil speculation.

To use less oil and save families money, the plan proposes four moves:

  • Cut foreign oil use by 5 percent annually, and in half by 2022
  • Build 21st century cars that get 60 miles per gallon by 2025 and invest in transportation choices
  • End tax loopholes for Big Oil, and invest one cent per dollar of Big Oil profit into ultra-clean vehicle research and development.
  • Stop speculators from driving up oil prices

This came out just as President Obama gave an energy policy speech, and our Green Transportation Campaign Director Ann Mesnikoff will have some more comments on that very shortly.

Clearly it's a busy time for those fighting to break our oil addiction. Want to get involved? Find your local Sierra Club chapter, or become a transportation activist, learn more about electric vehicles, cut your personal oil use, or take action to encourage better energy policy in the U.S.

We can move beyond oil!

-- Heather Moyer

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