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Source: Newsday

OPINION: Lessons for LI in the Gulf oil spill: Invest in wind

BY ADRIENNE ESPOSITO

Posted: June 1, 2010
Originally Published: May 14, 2010

Adrienne Esposito is executive director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment

A nightmare. That's really the only way to describe the Gulf Coast oil disaster.

The Gulf is home to about 40 percent of our nation's coastal wetlands. Gulf fisheries have been some of the most productive in the world. In 2008, commercial fisherman in the Gulf harvested 1.3 billion pounds of fish, generating $662 million in revenue.

Now an ocean of crude oil is pushing into imperiled marshlands during the height of the spawning season. Shrimp eggs and newly hatched larvae for fish, crawfish, crabs and lobsters will all be lost. Oil is toxic to all species.

Nearly 1,300 miles of coastline is already threatened. The haunting question is, where will it end? Scientists are now worried the massive oil slick could be carried by ocean currents around Florida and up the East Coast. Some have speculated it could reach North Carolina or farther, depending on when the well is capped.

This all raises serious questions for Long Island. Just like Louisianans and Mississippians, Long Islanders depend on oceans, estuaries, beaches and bays. Waters poisoned with oil would change our way of life. Commercial and recreational fishing, shellfishing, beaches, bays, boating, tourism, home values and more would be dramatically harmed if oil from this spill or another one were to reach us.

On Long Island, a healthy environment equals a healthy economy. The Long Island Sound generates $8.5 billion to our regional economy. The South Shore Estuary supports approximately 3,000 businesses, which employ nearly 30,000 people. In 2004, New York's coastal counties had 17,558 ocean-sector establishments, such as seafood markets and marinas, contributing more than 356,200 jobs and $11.5 billion in wages. The state's ocean-sector industries pumped more than $24.6 billion into New York's gross domestic product.

Long Islanders want productive, clean water bodies. Across the Island, governments and nonprofits have teamed up to help restore clam, lobster, oyster and fish populations. Progress is slow but the efforts are strong. Just off Long Island's coasts, along the continental shelf, are a series of ancient submarine canyons and soaring seamounts. These unique underwater structures are valuable habitats teeming with ocean life. More than 200 species of invertebrates have been identified there and canyons provide valuable habitat for hundreds of fish, crustacean, dolphin and whale species.

Protecting estuaries and the ocean is our responsibility, and one critical way to do it is to change our energy policy. Our nation deserves a policy for the 21st century that is cleaner, safer, and doesn't hold the capacity to wipe out livelihoods, economic centers and generations of maritime history. While pundits continue to frame the question as "Should we continue to drill?" we need to answer the more meaningful question, "How quickly can we transition to large-scale renewables?"

We have the ability to change the future, to prevent these types of catastrophes. Wind, solar, geothermal and wave power need to play a critical role in our energy policy. To date, not one offshore wind farm has been constructed in the United States, but good news came recently with a long-awaited approval for a proposed Cape Cod wind farm.

The debate has centered around two primary issues - cost and view. Clearly, oil can no longer be considered "cheaper" than wind. It is imperative that the cost of oil now include potential costs from damage associated with accidents.

Common sense would tell us that we need to evaluate the risk of generating energy with fossil fuels and compare them with the risks of large-scale wind power. Wind power costs more to construct, but the environmental risks are minimal. That's simply not true with fossil fuels. All the advanced technology on the planet cannot guarantee accident-free fossil and nuclear fuels, and as the past several weeks have shown, the devastation from such accidents can be vast - and are certainly on a different scale than an altered coastal view.

Let's not let narrow, ill-informed opinions obstruct our nation's transition to a clean energy future. The fact is that all large-scale energy infrastructure affects our environment, and it's our responsibility to choose the options with the least impact: wind power and renewables.

The damage from the Gulf tragedy will be extensive, measured economically, environmentally and socially. That region is losing a maritime culture, a way of life, and quite possibly its hopes and dreams for the future. We need to protect Long Island from a similar fate.