May 28, 2010
More than 30 days after the Deepwater Horizon sank in the Gulf of Mexico President Obama this week took the first step to explicitly link the need to pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill to the largest oil spill in American history.
On Tuesday, Obama met with Senate Republicans and, according to a White House statement, told them “that the gulf oil disaster should heighten our sense of urgency to hasten the development of new, clean energy sources that will promote energy independence and good-paying American jobs. And he asked that they work with him on the promising proposals currently before Congress.“
The next day Obama toured Solyndra’s solar thin-film manufacturing plant in Fremont, California and noted that even as “we are dealing with this immediate crisis, we’ve got to remember that the risks our current dependence on oil holds for our environment and our coastal communities is not the only cost involved in our dependence on these fossil fuels. Around the world, from China to Germany, our competitors are waging a historic effort to lead in developing new energy technologies.”
The climate action and clean energy communities have been pushing the White House for weeks to link the oil spill as an event that could remind Americans of the serious consequences of an economy powered by fossil fuels, and galvanize political support for comprehensive legislation.
Obama has been reluctant, until this week, to embrace the idea. Even in the face of 24/7 national television news coverage of gouts of oil pouring from the ruptured well, stained water, and oil-soaked birds, public opinion polls consistently show a majority of Americans support offshore drilling.
The American Power Act, introduced in the Senate earlier this month, also takes into account that public support — as well as the political influence of the oil industry — and provides developers access to new areas for offshore exploration. The proposal, though, also includes a range of other measures to spur clean energy development and restrict carbon emissions that are meant to diminish market demand for polluting and dangerous fossil fuels.
As a candidate in 2008 and as president Obama has made it a point of loudly and consistently promoting clean energy development, while also instituting the energy efficiency and emissions reduction regulations to respond to climate change and support new markets. The dual initiatives – public investment in clean energy tools and federal regulatory action — form the administration’s primary industrial development and climate action strategy. Just how powerful that combination is in generating jobs and new industrialization is now emerging in Michigan, where roughly $6 billion has been invested over the last year in new battery manufacturing plants for the next generation of clean cars.
This week a group of prominent national environmental leaders held a news conference on Capitol Hill, during which they urged the president to link the Gulf spill to convince Americans that a new way was possible in the climate and energy proposal that could reduce the risk of oil catastrophes and build a better and safer American prosperity.
Today Obama made his second visit to the Gulf, where federal officials early in the day said that the leak had been plugged, at least temporarily, and then withdrew that assertion. The Coast Guard estimated that the spill contained over 30 million barrels, three times larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. Earlier this week he extended the moratorium on offshore drilling including in Alaska. With so many Americans calling on the president to do something more, Obama’s next big move seems obvious. Press the Senate hard to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation.
Until next week, take care, Keith Schneider