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No reason to 'drill, baby, drill'

By Michael Brune, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama proposed to open new areas to offshore oil drilling
  • Sierra Club chief Michael Brune says drilling is risky; spills could endanger coastline
  • He says focus should not be on encouraging consumption of fossil fuels
  • Brune: Use renewable energy, increased efficiency to reduce oil consumption

Editor's note: Michael Brune is executive director of the Sierra Club and former director of the Rainforest Action Network.

(CNN) -- Wednesday's speech from President Obama unveiling his new strategy on offshore drilling, which will keep some sensitive coastal areas open for drilling, hits close to home for me.

I grew up in Chadwick Beach, on the New Jersey shore. My parents took us camping up and down the Eastern Seaboard. In the summer, as a teenager, I'd spend all day every day at the beach and in the ocean, surfing and bodysurfing. Although I remember all the good times along the shore, I also remember the bad, including when hypodermic needles and frothy chemical waste from nearby plants began washing up on the sand.

Now I foresee even more of the bad for places along the East Coast shoreline, as well as the thousands of miles of coast that will be exposed to oil spills, from this latest plan to open up offshore drilling areas.

We're very disappointed to see important areas like the Arctic coast and the Mid- and South-Atlantic stay open to oil drilling. What we need are bold, decisive steps towards clean energy, like the new clean cars regulations announced this week, not more dirty, expensive offshore drilling.

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Drilling our coasts will do nothing to lower gas prices or create energy independence. It will only jeopardize beaches, marine life and tourist economies, all so the oil industry can make a short-term profit. Why are we threatening the backbone of our coastal economies that generate billions of dollars in revenues from tourism, recreation and commercial fishing?

The oil industry has access to drilling on millions of acres of America's public lands and water. We don't need to hand over our last protected pristine coastal areas just so oil companies can break more profit records.

Obama also brought up an important statistic during his speech: Americans consume 25 percent of the world's produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3 percent of the world's proven oil reserves. Simply put, America just doesn't have enough oil to impact prices on the world market, since we sit on such a small portion of the world's reserves.

The president's drilling plans include the Arctic's Chukchi and Beaufort seas, which are of concern to us because they provide important habitats for polar bears, beluga and bowhead whales, and bearded and spotted seals. Thankfully, the new plans will leave Alaska's Bristol Bay off-limits to drilling.

Contrary to what the oil industry would have us believe, offshore drilling is a risky business. Where there is offshore drilling, there is a constant danger of oil spills. One spill is all it takes to destroy a coastal tourism economy and the jobs that depend on it.

The honest answer to our oil problem is to use less of it, and that means better fuel efficiency and renewable energy. It's time to break our addiction to fossil fuels by shifting our priorities -- and our policies -- toward creating the clean energy economy.

Obama has taken important steps to combat global warming pollution and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Our nation's increasing investment in clean energy and efficiency measures makes drilling in sensitive coastal areas even more unnecessary.

There's no reason to drill our coasts. We can achieve real energy independence and economic vitality by investing in clean energy like wind and solar and efficiency. This kind of power creates good, lasting American jobs and positions our nation to become a global leader in the new clean energy economy.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Brune.