Friday, September 7, 2012

So You Were Disappointed in President Obama

I have to admit I was surprised President Barack Obama's speech was so well-received because frankly it was not the speech I was expecting & from my twitter thread I wasn't the only one surprised. But then PBO always surprises me. I can't really articulate what I was expecting, but the heavy dose of dry humor wasn't on my list. Make no mistake, I  love PBO's humor & the way he laughs at his own jokes. As my family & friends will attest, I do the same thing. I thought the speech was pitch-perfect as the President took us through the evolution of his political life. This moment as he stood before us as President demanded a different kind of speech. I was not disappointed; I was blown away. This speech was a slow burn that ended with a crescendo reminiscent of a call & response sermon--a style of his I dearly love. But, as usual, there were a few flying unicorns pooping fairy dust all over the speech.

So I'm going to address the deafening silence when he talked about drilling for domestic oil, developing natural gas and clean coal. I reject the idea of we can't do something so don't even try.  Increasing domestic oil production is a necessary step in weaning ourselves off of foreign oil. Period. We cannot leap from dependence on oil to alternative sources of energy. It's impossible. Maybe we would if we could all afford to run right out and buy hybrid or electric cars, but we can't. Many of you may not remember the OPEC oil embargoes, but it was a damn scary time. Our country's security was under constant overt or implied threat. Americans were held hostage to the turbulence in the Middle East.

This may sound trivial, but during that time we didn't just turn our thermostats down, we didn't decorate for Christmas. We cancelled vacations in the family car. The cost of petroleum-based products skyrocketed. During the holiday season, we enjoy driving around, looking at Christmas lights. During those years, I remember thinking, seeing one darkened house after another, that the darkness was portending our future. But we survived that energy crisis only to experience others--a never ending cycle we must break. 

I live in the state of NM, a state people associate with beautiful skies, green chili, & tourism. But we, too, are producers of oil & natural gas. Large oil & gas fields as well as giant refineries are located in the NW & SE parts of the state. NM is a huge state with endless miles of nothingness & some of it vast stretches of ugliness. Those oil & gas pumps that dot the landscape are a beautiful sight to a very poor state. The taxes generated by those pumps fund our schools. The severance taxes are critical because, while NM may be a huge state geographically, we have a small population, most of whom live at or below poverty level; therefore, we have a small tax base. Although we may depend on energy production as a source of revenue, NM is also developing  alternative energy sources. So that is one reason I support Pres. Obama's energy plan--like NM energy production, his plan is a bridge between old & new. 

Yes, I am fully aware of the dangers inherent in the use of natural gas. In my hometown a natural gas explosion obliterated 10 members & 3 generations of a family. In another tragedy a young  Navajo family traveling across the reservation was blown to pieces when a gas line exploded under their pickup. I don't need commercials of water faucets shooting out balls of fire to understand the dangers of natural gas. But as someone who has always had a home warmed by natural gas, I also know it is efficient, plentiful, clean, & very cheap. Our heating bill in the dead of cold Albuquerque winters runs about $60.00 a month  Herein lies the dilemma. Natural gas, while potentially dangerous, must be considered a viable alternative to oil & coal. 

 I also lived close to two coal-fired power plants built near a coal deposit on the Navajo Reservation when I taught in a northwestern NM town. For years I watched black smoke billowing out of skyscraper-like smokestacks, darkening our stunning NM sky. According to many it seemed we had a disproportionate number of young women afflicted with MS & cancer attributed to the toxic emissions from the plants.  At the time I lived there I was alarmed at the growing number of seemingly healthy women who suddenly became very ill. No, that's not evidence. It is anecdotal but sometimes that can be powerful. We also believed the air inversions that trapped the air above the basin, leaving us with sunless days for a week at a time, were caused by the smoke. Finally, after years of protests by environmental groups, the stacks were fitted with scrubbers, & now the black smoke is but a thin wisp of white. Now I'm not naive enough to think all environmental & health risks have been eliminated, but certainly progress has been made. 

Secondly, poverty is palatable on the reservation & coal is an important source of revenue for the Navajo Tribe. Just as in West Virginia, where coal mining has done incalculable damage to people's health & environment, the industry does provide a living to many in one of the poorest parts of the United States. So what is the solution?  How can we suddenly deprive the poor of a source of income while protecting their safety & the environment?  These are concerns we all have. 

Choosing Pres. Obama isn't a choice between the lesser of two evils. He is the best & only hope for the environment we've had in my lifetime. I want a watch dog over oil drilling & the extraction of natural gas & coal. I want a shepherd to continue bringing alternative energy production on line. First & foremost, I need is someone who gives a damn about the safety of my family & all families.  I want a leader with a conscience who will not only develop safety regulations but enforce current ones. We have these resources that we need, & we have a President who believes in & seeks out innovation to change & modernize our energy industry while providing safe jobs & a clean environment. 
Here's what I know from my own experience & what I want to share with those of you who so readily dismiss the President's plan & responded to that part of the speech with stony silence. Don't scoff at the idea of safe extraction of natural gas. Don't scorn the idea of clean coal. 

For the first 8 years of my life, I lived in a northern NM village where I attended a one building school that housed grades 1-12. We didn't have a school cafeteria because there were no such things, not even a concept of one. We ate our brown bag lunches seated on the bleachers in the gym. Our playground was hard-packed dirt with a couple of swings. No state of the art, safe playgrounds for us. Certainly no Internet, computers, DVD players, etc.  No, it wasn't walking to a school 5 miles away in 8 feet of snow, but it was damn close. I remember when my dad brought our first tv into the house--black & white of course. Hell, I even remember a rotary phone without the rotary. I just picked up the phone & told the local operator the number to call. 

But I also remember my dad getting me up at the crack of dawn to watch the flight of John Glenn into space & Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. I watched with a father who was born at home to a mother born in a sod covered dug out on a NM ranch. And to a father who came to NM in a covered wagon & was alive to see that same moon walk although he never believed it. 

I am in awe of what my grandparents & my parents saw in their lifetimes. I am in awe of what I saw & still see. So don't tell me we can't develop safe natural gas extraction. So don't tell me we aren't going to see clean coal. No sir!  We do incredible stuff here in America.  When I choose my President in November, I'm choosing Barack Obama & his energy plan, thank you very much.