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April 21, 2011

Our Responsibility to the Earth

"But what have you done for me lately?"

If our planet could ask that question, we'd definitely have a better answer this year than last. Just before Earth Day 2010, BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded -- a disaster that ultimately dumped more than 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico and wreaked unprecedented havoc on ecosystems, wildlife, and communities.

Not a good day for the Earth.

So it's great that this year we can point to a historic settlement between the EPA and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) that means we'll use 8.5 million fewer tons of coal every year -- the same amount that four large West Virginia mines would have ripped from the Earth.

That seems like straightforward bad news/good news, but there's more to it. The tragedy in the Gulf is still hurting people and wildlife. And we'll never be safe from such disasters until we end our dependence on oil.  Ending drilling is only part of the answer. We must fast-track energy-efficient transit alternatives, require energy-efficient cars and trucks and, ultimately, develop an entire transportation infrastructure that can be powered by clean, renewable energy sources.

Alternative energy and energy efficiency are real, viable solutions, which is why Big Oil and its proxies hate them. Do you think they'd be kicking and screaming to stop progress if they didn't see a threat to their bottom line? And they're right to be worried, because most Americans know those solutions make sense.  

That's one of the things that's exciting about the Tennessee Valley Authority agreement that the EPA negotiated with the help of the Sierra Club. Yes, the TVA will close 18 coal-plant units in the southeastern U.S. and update the pollution controls on dozens more. That will deliver immediate and dramatic health and environmental benefits for the region. As many as 3,000 premature deaths, 2,000 heart attacks, and 21,000 cases of asthma attacks prevented each year! But the TVA settlement goes beyond simply saying "stop burning coal." It also advances the clean-energy solutions that we need if we're going to get off of coal for good. From the EPA's announcement:

TVA is required to spend $240 million on energy efficiency initiatives including a Smart Energy Communities project that will focus on energy efficiency in low-income communities. TVA will retrofit low-income housing with the most cost-effective energy efficiency technologies -- reducing air pollution, energy use and saving residents money. TVA will also spend $40 million to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through renewable projects such as hybrid electric charging stations and $8 million for a clean diesel and electric vehicle project for public transportation systems.

Identifying problems and stopping bad things is important, but it's only part of our responsibility to the Earth. If we aren't also working on solutions, then we're really still part of the problem. That might be a good thing for each of us to remember on Earth Day and every day.

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