Today is a big day for energy policy and coastal areas in the United States.

What’s really big is the oil slick spreading in the Gulf of Mexico after last week’s BP oil rig explosion.   The Coast Guard has failed to shut an underwater valve from which more than 5,000 barrels of oil have now spewed, allowing the slick to travel within 20 miles of the Louisiana shore and creep closer still (see diagram on the left).

Maps courtesy of NOAA & The Boston Globe

At the same time, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved an offshore wind farm near Cape Cod, Massachusetts today, ending a decade-long stall on the project and making a sizeable splash in the news.  An Interior Department  press release describes the size and significance of the project:

The Cape Wind project would be the first wind farm on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, generating enough power to meet 75 percent of the electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island combined. The project would create several hundred construction jobs and be one of the largest greenhouse gas reduction initiatives in the nation, cutting carbon dioxide emissions from conventional power plants by 700,000 tons annually. That is equivalent to removing 175,000 cars from the road for a year.

The bulk of resistance to Cape Wind has come from residents and even some tribal groups, claiming that the project degrades the historical and cultural value of the area.

Meanwhile offshore drilling plans continue at the federal level, fastening our dependence on fossil fuels and ruining landscapes and wildlife areas elsewhere in the United States. Today the Coast Guard began lighting fire to isolated sections of the Gulf oil spill, and the spilling and burning may continue for days or weeks.  The Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry admitted in a press conference that they are “possibly 90 days out from securing the source permanently.”

As the Gulf burns, the urgency of transitioning away from non-renewable and polluting energy sources seems clearer than ever. We have the needed renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies ready. Those are the real tools that will preserve the history and cultures we enjoy on this planet.

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Cape Wind, fossil fuels, offshore wind, oil