Monday, May 24, 2010

The Gulf Spill and a Climate Bill, part 2

After taking a few days off transitioning back to St. Louis, I'm ready to start up blogging again.  I've got a lot to cover, including my analysis of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu's recent commencement address at Wash U.  But first things first: here is my follow up post on The Gulf Spill and a Climate Bill.

Even with repeated efforts to stem the BP oil spill, millions of gallons of oil are still leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.  BP recently released live video feed of the gushing oil, which you can view here.  Things don't seem to be getting any better whatsoever; in a recent Op-Ed   in the New York Times, leading research scientists concluded that BP's worst case projection has likely been occuring all along:

"...our preliminary estimates indicate that the discharge is at least 40,000 barrels per day and could be as much as 100,000 barrels. Certainly, our assessments suggest that BP’s stated worst-case estimate of 60,000 barrels has been occurring all along. What matters most is that we take the steps to find out if it has."

Clearly, things are bad in the Gulf.  This unprecedented environmental disaster threatens endangered wetlands and the entire Gulf fishing economy.  Environmentalists have mobilized around the oil spill, with demonstrations and online actions calling for a complete ban for off shore oil drilling.  Yet, the Obama administration has been slow to react to the spill, and now appears to be scrambling to maintain the image that it is in control of the situation.  Obama just dispatched three top cabinet officials to the Gulf region, likely more for effect than for any actual ability to help solve the crisis.  

Due to federal law, BP's ownership of the Deepwater Horizon drilling site means that the government cannot take over efforts to shut off the leak.  But this may soon change, as Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said on Sunday “if we find they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we’ll push them out of the way, appropriately.”  It remains to be seen how the U.S. government would gain control of the situation.

However, this blog post is not meant to criticize the Obama administration's handling of the oil spill clean up efforts.  While the administration may have been a bit late in its initial response, overall Obama has handled this disaster rather well.  He his dispatched his best officials to work to solve the crisis, and the federal government has provided advanced support from the EPA, NOAA, the Coast Guard, and other agencies.  If you follow the story deeply enough, there doesn't appear to be much more the Obama administration could be doing to help stop the spill.

While Obama has been decent in his clean up effort, his political response to the oil spill has been horrendous.  Weeks before this disaster began, Obama opened up the nation's coasts to offshore oil drilling for the first time in decades.  This move was likely political, and tied to the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham comprehensive energy legislation in the Senate.  So one would think that Obama would use this disaster as a political means to advocate for such legislation.  Yet Obama has barely endorsed the Kerry-Lieberman energy bill, and has not used the Gulf Spill oil disaster in any positive way whatsoever, with the small exception of announcing new fuel economy standards for trucks.

What the hell are Obama and the rest of the Democrats doing?  This is there one big chance to pass comprehensive clean energy and climate change legislation, once and for all.  Jonathan Hiske of Grist puts it best:

"It is a critical moment that Democrats are insane not to use... We've got a host of safer, cleaner options [than oil], such as offshore wind, which should be easier to develop now that Cape Wind is nearly ready to go. Let's run with them. This is a golden opportunity to completely change course and work toward ditching fossil fuels. America needs to hear that loud and clear, from its president."

Hiske wrote that on April 30, twenty four days ago.  Since then, I've heard barely a peep about comprehensive energy legislation from the President.  Instead, you get statements like this:

"Now, as I've said before, domestic oil drilling continues to be one part of an overall energy strategy that now includes more clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency than at any other time in our history.  But it's absolutely essential that going forward we put in place every necessary safeguard and protection so that a tragedy like this oil spill does not happen again."

Obama is no explanation as to WHY oil is still needed, but that seems to be a big assumption in all of his remarks.  It;s like Obama is saying, "renewables are nice, but they're not developed enough yet for us to really actually use them."  Hmm, maybe they aren't developed enough because the federal government gives them minuscule funding.  Maybe it's because we don't have a national renewable energy standard.  Maybe it's because we haven't invested in energy efficiency.  Maybe it's because we haven't passed a CLEAN ENERGY BILL.

Look, I understand that the Democrats are scared about the upcoming midterm elections.  Ever since the Tea Party crazies were let loose last August, Democrats have been slipping in the polls.  Understandably, the Democrats might not want to risk passing something the Republicans have painted as "cap and tax" that will "cost trillions of dollars" or "send jobs to China."  But that's the easy way out.  What Obama and the Democrats should do is counter these lies and use the Gulf Spill to finally do what they said they would do: pass a climate bill.

In the lead up to the Copenhagen Negotiations, President Obama let our country and the world down.  He devoted so much energy to healthcare that he didn't have time to support moving energy legislation through the Senate in time for the negotiations.  Now, if the American Power Act or another (hopefully better) energy bill fails to pass before November, Obama and crew may have blown their chances at passing ANYTHING climate related.  And that would be much more tragic than Copenhagen.

It's time for action. It's time for real, comprehensive energy legislation. It's time for a prolonged effort to innovate and develop new energy technologies, improve efficiency to conserve the energy we already use, and redesign the way society functions so that we no longer have to use oil. This is the path to sustainability.

Peak oil is coming soon. We've seen the tragic consequences of oil. We know that coal and other fossil fuels pose a huge threat to our climate and to our civilization. It's time for a change. And President Obama, we're counting on you to make it happen. Lead us to a clean energy revolution.

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