While the national energy bill lumbers through Congress, politicians and communities would do better to look toward alternatives. Current proposals focus on "cleaning up" dirty coal plants, building pipelines in Alaska and expanding transmission lines. It's time to look to renewable energy sources.
The United States is the wealthiest and most dominant country in the world, yet we can't keep the lights on in New York City or provide power in "liberated" Baghdad. Centralized power production based on fossil fuel and nuclear resources has served to concentrate political power, disconnect communities from responsibility and control over energy, and to create a vast, wasteful system. Democratizing power production is key to returning power to the people.
We are energy junkies. The United States is the largest energy market in the world; as 5 percent of the population we consume one-third of the world's energy resources. Ninety-seven percent of the total world oil consumption occurred in the past 70 years. We even slather oil-based fertilizers and herbicides on our food crops.
These addictions have overtaken our common sense and a good portion of our decency. We live in a country with the largest disparity of wealth between rich and poor of any industrialized country in the world. As Lee Raymond, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, remarks, "Energy is the biggest business in the world, there just isn't any other industry that begins to compare." Energy companies have immense influence in public policy and often flaunt their violations of the law. (Just take a look at the closed-door meetings with V.P. Dick Cheney if you need a refresher course).
It's 14 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and only two of 28 species almost obliterated by the accident are recovering. ExxonMobil has thus far wiggled out of paying the $5 billion fine levied against the corporation for its negligence. It seeks to reduce the fine to $25 million — $17.5 million less than Lee Raymond made in 2002. Halliburton is the happy recipient of a $1.7 billion no-bid contract in addition to hundreds of millions in other no-bid contracts to keep Iraqi oil flowing. And, while power-broker Enron's Kenneth Lay, who, along with his colleagues was able to loot $2.1 billion from the 40l(k) pension funds of thousands of Enron employees, might get a slap on the wrist, Martha Stewart is skewered. Although a dozen of the 9/11 hijackers held Saudi passports, we have made few comments, and, instead, invaded two countries with only marginal, at best, relationships with the 9/11 incident.
Meanwhile, the Great Plains — the Saudi Arabia of Wind Power — has potential that is only beginning to be tapped. Twenty-three Indian tribes have more than 300 gigawatts of wind generating potential. There is also ethanol to be developed here. That represents more than half of present U.S. installed electrical capacity. Those tribes live in some of the poorest counties in the country, and yet they are putting up wind turbines that could power America — if they had more contracts and access to power lines. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe's 750-kilowatt wind turbine is the first commercial turbine, with 30-megawatt projects planned on other reservations in the region. As well, White Earth, Leech Lake, Red Lake, Fond du Lac and Grand Portage reservations all just received Energy Department grants to look at wind and other renewable energy for this region.
Renewable energy makes economic sense. The Apollo Project points out that America has lost 2.7 million high-paying manufacturing jobs since 2000. Investing in alternative energy is investing in jobs. The European Union estimates 2.77 jobs in wind for every megawatt produced, 7.24 jobs/megawatt in solar, and 5.67 jobs/megawatt in geothermal. We can either create jobs and economic stability in many rural areas, or we can continue to line the pockets of CEOs.
We stand on the cusp of something important. By democratizing power production, we are investing in homeland security. After all, who's going to fly an airplane into a wind tower or stop farmers and Native people from putting wind into the grid? In the end, renewable energy will offer our communities, our political institutions and our country more good choices for the economy, the environment, foreign policy and our collective future.
LaDuke is a member of the Mississippi Band of Anishinaabeg who lives on the White Earth Reservation. She is a journalist and activist who ran as the Green Party's vice presidential candidate in the last two elections.
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