June 4, 2010
With oceanographers warning that the runaway oil from the BP Gulf catastrophe could be carried by ocean currents around Florida and up the East Coast, Washington more than stirred to life this week on climate and energy. It started to simmer.
President Obama resolved on Wednesday to pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill this year. The next day Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid directed the chairs of six Senate committees to develop ideas for legislation “to kick the oil habit as soon as possible.” The Washington Post noted the rise in political temperature on energy and climate in a top-of-the-fold lead story. And strategists in the White House and on Capitol Hill said there was fresh evidence that a good bill could pass.
“It’s time for everyone to take their game to another level,” wrote Dan Lashof, the director of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s Climate Center, on his blog. “Take a deep breath. Get some rest over the weekend. And get ready for the defining fight of a generation. The battle for our future has just begun.”
There were already strong hints from the White House last week that instead of treating the oil blowout as an illustration of the administration’s capacity to manage disaster, the president would start to build support for a durable legislative solution.
That idea blossomed during a speech in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon University, when President Obama emphatically linked the Gulf disaster to its root cause: a mobile way of life sustained by energy developers pursuing projects that are ever more hazardous to the environment and the economy. In tone and phrasing that could one day be seen as a signal moment in the nation’s shift to safer sources of energy, the president said “if we refuse to take into account the full costs of our fossil fuel addiction – if we don’t factor in the environmental costs and the national security costs and the true economic costs – we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future.”
The president resolved to achieve comprehensive climate and energy legislation and to “work with anyone to get this done – and we will get it done.”
“The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century,” the president said. “We are not going to move backwards. We are going to move forward.”
A starting point for Senate debate is the American Power Act, introduced on May 12 by Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, which many climate and energy advocates say needs revisions. Its conventional fossil fuel and nuclear provision are too generous, they say, and the clean energy and climate provisions do not go nearly far enough. A basic blueprint of what is needed emerged this week from the Center for American Progress, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and other organizations. A successful legislative strategy, said advocates, would include these provisions:
- Significantly increasing fuel mileage standards to save 7 million-plus barrels of oil daily by 2030, or a 38 percent reduction from current rates of oil consumption in the U.S.
- Eliminating subsidies for fossil fuel development, a goal embraced last year by leaders of the G20 group of nations.
- Accelerating energy efficiency programs for buildings and expanding biofuels production.
- Establishing a strong national renewable energy standard, similar to those in place in 35 states.
- Placing a cap on carbon that produces at least 80 percent reductions in emissions by 2050.
- Providing substantial funds for developing nations to adapt to climate change, preserve forests, and make the transition to a clean energy economy.
- Retain the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases.
As the week ended, the president made his third trip in five weeks to the Gulf where he spent most of the time with residents and local officials to talk about coping with the oil. He also learned more about how BP had sheared through a leaking pipe at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. The company put in place a cap to direct escaping oil to a ship on the surface that showed signs of actually working.
Talk to you next week, Keith