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To President Obama: Leave the oil in the soil

In its tenth year of producing a modest amount of electricity from renewable sources through Green Power Switch, the Tennessee Valley Authority is embarking on electric mobility.
In partnership with Oak Ridge National Energy Laboratory and the Electric Power Research Institute, TVA is setting up solar charging stations for electric vehicles in Knoxville and Oak Ridge for a six-month testing period, then will expand to the state’s other major cities.
Each station’s solar panels will generate enough electricity “to power each car for approximately 10,000 miles per year.”
The project lets one glimpse at a component in a transportation model such as the Earth Policy Institute’s Lester Brown and other visionary planners have long promoted. In an efficient, 21st century system, urban-area travel would have options of light rail, busses, bicycles, cars and walking, with cities’ long-distance connections served primarily through high-speed trains.
These and cars would not run on fossil fuel but be powered by green electricity. Transportation re-structuring along these lines would solve some of the overriding needs we now face — curbing greenhouse gas pollution and securing alternatives to dwindling supplies of oil.
It would also save our oceans and shorelines from oil-spill catastrophes like that now ongoing in the Gulf of Mexico.
A national wildlife refuge established by Teddy Roosevelt, the fish, oysters and shellfish of Louisiana’s seafood industry and beach communities’ tourism economies along large portions of the Atlantic coast may be severely impacted by the disaster.
The easy assurances of safety and environmental harmlessness of drilling for oil are false even as normal operations go. Each year in the US, they spill an average of 880,000 gallons of oil into the oceans.
To President Obama, therefore, who had announced plans for more drilling, in hundreds of millions more offshore areas, one may cite Vandana Shiva’s contrary advice at an ETSU lecture recently: “Leave the oil in the soil.”
In an article in The Capital Times in 2008, Lester Brown laid out a picture of the possibilities, with wind-generated electricity, to power our cars directly. Just three of the most windy states could satisfy national electricity needs, per assessment of the Energy Department.
Wind power could go “on the road” through its further development in other areas. That is happening.
More than 30 states had commercial-scale wind farms operating in 2008. More installations come on each year, and a first U.S. offshore wind farm was approved in April.
Wind energy is carbon free, abundant, inexhaustible and “ours,” Brown notes, not to be embargoed, and not pulling disaster in its wake should a turbine go down. Its special attractions for transportation: cars can be re-charged at off-peak times and, whereas gasoline prices “are probably headed to $5 to $10 a gallon, the wind-generated-electricity equivalent of a gallon of gasoline costs less than $1.”
TVA’s recharge stations are a small step in the right direction. Much more rapid deployment of green electricity for transportation is the urgent need of our time–instead of further drilling for oil off our shores.