Senators Reed, Whitehouse join RI experts in call to get off oil

Environment Rhode Island

Providence, R.I. –  Last Friday evening, a standing-room only crowd of over 125 people attended an educational forum entitled “Get Off Oil” organized by statewide environmental organization Environment Rhode Island.

“The cost of our dependence on oil is out of control,” said Channing Jones, Field Associate with Environment Rhode Island and organizer of the event. “It’s putting the health, welfare, and security of Rhode Island families at risk.”

The forum, held at Brown University, was cosponsored by a broad coalition of environmental groups, student organizations, academic departments and programs, and local clean energy businesses.

“We all understand the ramifications of our over-reliance on petroleum products,” said Sen. Jack Reed, Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, as he outlined the environmental and economic costs of oil use. Reed, a veteran, also noted, “military analysts suggest that if we don’t reduce our reliance on oil, we’ll be in a strategic straightjacket.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse emphasized the need to address climate change, especially for a coastal state like Rhode Island. “The oceans are a particularly dangerous vector for oil pollution and carbon pollution,” he said.

The first of the evening’s two panels outlined the broad human and ecological consequences of oil use. Professor Stephen Porder of Brown University discussed the contribution of oil to the buildup of greenhouse gases that scientists caution can be expected to warm the planet: “Even middle of the road scenarios mean big changes for human and natural systems.” Molly Clark of the American Lung Association then discussed the health effects of smog and other pollutants. Professor Catherine Lutz of Brown University concluded the panel noting that, with hundreds of millions of cars and light trucks on the road in the United States, “we are at the root of the problem as it exists today.”

“But we can do better than continue to depend on this dirty, dangerous, and increasingly expensive energy source,” said Jones. “We have the technologies and the policies available to begin to transition our economy off oil and onto clean alternatives.”

The second panel of speakers focused on the wide array of options available to Rhode Island and the nation to move off oil: alternative fuels and vehicles, efficiency improvements in vehicles and buildings, and public transportation. Abel Collins of the Sierra Club also called for “complete streets” designed to aid those who walk, bike, or take public transit.

Mike Bailey of Newport Biodiesel and Jim Malloy of Malloy Biodiesel, whose local companies respectively produce and distribute biodiesel from locally collected vegetable oil, also emphasized the business opportunities presented by transitioning the economy away from oil––as well as the challenges. “Until we realize the true cost of petroleum,” said Malloy, “it’s hard for local, sustainable biodiesel to compete.”

In his address, Sen. Whitehouse, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, emphasized the importance of being “in control of our energy future” but warned that the fossil fuel industry “is working very hard to keep us from getting there.”

“For decades, America’s transportation and energy policies have prioritized highways over railways, SUVs over fuel efficient vehicles, and subsidies to oil companies over investments in clean fuels,” said Daniel Gatti, Staff Attorney with Environment America. “Getting us off oil will require bold leadership and the sustained commitment of policymakers.”