As of Wednesday, Reuters reported, President Obama formally asked federal department heads to craft a long-term economic and environmental recovery plan for the Gulf Coast. It’s about time for residents of the Gulf; a couple of news items I saw today quantified how much the BP oil disaster has set them back.
In one item, National Public Radio reported that the massive oil spill has decimated the Gulf’s tourist industry. Normally, lodging occupancy would be 98% over the July 4th holiday. This year, it’s dropped to 40%, even with big money-off deals being offered by some hotels.
Another report noted that BP had hired about 4,500 unemployed locals to aid in clean-up efforts as of early June. But that doesn’t come close to the 80,000 who have applied for compensation due to losing their livelihoods to the spill. Only about half of those claims have yet been paid.
The Gulf has probably been hit the hardest, but it’s not the only region in the country suffering from unemployment. I’m hoping that, as recovery plans and policies are developed for the Gulf and the nation, we will use strategies that address unemployment and oil addiction at the same time.
There are so many ways we might do this. Here are a few ideas:
- How many derelict oil rigs in the Gulf are in commercially viable wind energy areas? Filmmaker and biodiesel advocate Josh Tickell – maker of the film Fuel – recently suggested to me that old oil platforms in the Gulf might work as sites for offshore wind turbines. If this is technologically feasible, it might be a source of employment for retrained oil rig workers, for instance – and it would be far cleaner than the oil drilling it would replace.
- Also specifically for the Gulf -- right now there’s a gap in Amtrak’s system of train routes between New Orleans and Florida. Since Hurricane Katrina ripped up tracks used by the Sunset Limited, this route has not operated. Repair and reconstruction of tracks and stations along this route should be a priority and can serve as a source of employment in the Gulf, both short-term during construction and long-term, once the train and stations are again up and running.
- Commentator and former Labor secretary Robert Reich recommended recently that “The President should order BP to establish a $5 billion clean-up fund, and immediately put America's army of unemployed young people to work saving the Gulf coast.” Reich estimated that hundreds of thousands might be needed to perform clean-up tasks, and tens of thousands more might be needed for restoration. “Call it the new Civilian Conservation Corps,” Reich wrote in a piece that appeared on Salon.com.
- As an important shipping center, New Orleans might become a center for biodiesel manufacture and distribution – something that could, over time, replace the dirty cancer-causing concentration of refineries in the region.
- Across the country, expanding transit can provide employment at a time when it’s desperately needed. At the same time, it can cut our reliance on oil. This might be funded by phasing in a carbon tax, as I wrote in a previous post. Expanding facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists can also be funded by such a tax, to further reduce oil dependence, and construction of those bike lanes and sidewalks can generate more jobs.
- In June, Bill Gates and other corporate leaders formed the American Energy Innovation Council and released a report urging more federal funding for development of cleaner energy sources nationwide. The report urged that “Centers of Excellence” be established to foster this innovation. I differ with the Council on what it considers “cleaner energy” – they include nuclear fission and “advanced” use of fossil fuels, which I would phase out – but the Centers of Excellence idea seems basically sound. The report suggests these be built on the Energy Innovation Hubs now being established by the U.S. Department of Energy. (Perhaps one of these might end up on the Gulf Coast?)
- One of the DOE’s Energy Innovation Hubs will address fuels from sunlight, a source advocated by Tony Seba in a recent opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle. Seba forecasts that the cost of solar electric power will drop by 80 to 90 percent over the next decade. “By 2020,” Seba writes, “unsubsidized solar power will be cheaper than subsidized coal, oil and nuclear.” In addition, he cites the falling cost of battery storage as a factor that will cut the cost of electric cars. Pair the electric car with solar recharging and, Seba concludes, “Goodbye oil spills.” If you’ve read Divorce Your Car! you know I don’t see electric cars as a panacea, but Seba’s scenario would be a positive change.
Building bicycle facilities like these can provide jobs and reduce oil dependence; above, covered bicycle parking at a rail stop in Naperville, Illinois; below, a bicycle path in Madison, Wisconsin