Gulf Coast Residents Demand Clean Energy

Nearly a hundred Gulf Coast residents went to Washington last week to tell Congress that a clean energy bill is needed right now. Guest host Tony Cox speaks with Ann Costello, a small business owner, and resides in Pensacola, FL about her visit with members of Congress.

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TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

As millions of gallons of oil continue gushing into Gulf waters, there has been lots of activity on Capitol Hill from Gulf residents and members of Congress pushing for clean energy alternatives.

Coming up, we'll hear why West Virginia lawmakers say it's important not to abandon the existing fossil fuel industry.

But first, nearly 100 Gulf Coast residents trekked up to Washington last week to tell Congress just as President Obama did that now is the time to pass a clean energy bill. Ann Costello was part of the group. She owns a small business that caters to the local marine community in Pensacola, Florida, and she joins us in the studio. Welcome to the program.

Ms. ANN COSTELLO (Small Business Owner): It's great to be here.

COX: Before we talk about your experience on the Hill, tell us how you personally were impacted by the spill.

Ms. COSTELLO: Well, it's my home for one thing and I moved there over 25 years ago and fell in love with this beautiful, sort of close-to-nature place. Everything in Florida is water centered. And I got involved in local environmentalism and spent almost two decades working to restore a local bayou that had been totally polluted by the days when industry dumped into the water and sewage was dumped into the water and we had just reached a point where dolphins were coming back up into our bayou and the herons and the egrets and the shrimp and all the wildlife are there, even though the bayou isn't perfect, we were on our way back, you know.

COX: So this is part of what is behind your push for clean energy. What exactly is it that you would like to see done?

Ms. COSTELLO: Well, for one thing, I'd like to see a comprehensive clean energy plan. We've put this off for - for 30 years we've known that oil is limited, and we've sort of gotten our wheels mired in this fossil fuel economy. And now I almost feel like we're held hostage by those who want to keep us there. And there are so many other alternatives that are being explored in China, in Germany, in Europe.

You know, I don't know why I'm still driving a gas-operated vehicle when the technology has been around for 30 years to at least start, to at least make an effort to get off of this limited resource. I don't know why my house, my heating and cooling is still being done the way my parents heated and cooled when I live in Florida.

Of course, as a citizen, I should be more responsible, but I think Congress needs to take the lead. And I do not want them to be fighting over - oh, it's, you know, I got the ball, you're not going to play on my team. I want them to work together.

COX: Which clean energy are you most in favor of? Nuclear energy, solar, wind, what do you want?

Ms. COSTELLO: I've tried to read on this issue and it is big. But I think we have to diversify and possibly go to all of these things, depending on the region. I live in the South and it's - we have a lot of sun. We should all have solar panels. We have areas of our country that are more suited to wind. Yes, the turbines may be ugly, but so is our power grid, our electrical system ugly. And we've learned to live with that.

COX: Let me ask you this question. As you wait for the development and hope for the development of clean energy through Congress and other legislative bodies, what do you think people should do now in terms of trying to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels? What should we do?

Ms. COSTELLO: Well, I'm not crazy. I'm not radical. I'm not saying all wells need to be shut down tomorrow. I say make it safe. This country needs to feel like it's at war. We're talking about the destruction of a region, an unprecedented ecological disaster. I can't tell you the wildlife right now. I mean, I feel things that are dying. And they are in our food chain. It's one of the only two breeding grounds in the world for the bluefin tuna.

You know, the destruction will affect everybody, I believe, in some way or other. It's a big loss. But the point is I don't have the answers because I'm not a scientist and I'm not in the position to have them. I could - if solar were affordable where I live, I could put solar panels on my roof. I could buy a hybrid car if you give me a subsidy or you make it, you know, more affordable for Americans to do. I can be more careful. I can turn out the lights. I can teach my child to be, you know, more careful about using products that require electricity. But I need leadership and I need Congress to get together on this and bring in the people who have the brain power.

COX: Ann Costello is a small business owner on the Gulf Coast. She was in Washington last week urging members of Congress to pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill. Ann, thank you.

Ms. COSTELLO: You're welcome.

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