Bottom line: This bill has no chance to pass unless President Obama gets behind it with all his power, mobilizes the public and rounds up the votes. He has to lead from the front, not the rear. Responding to this oil spill could well become the most important leadership test of the Obama presidency.
The president has always had the right instincts on energy, but he is going to have to decide just how much he wants to rise to this occasion “” whether to generate just an emergency response that over months ends the spill or a systemic response that over time ends our addiction. Needless to say, it would be a lot easier for the president to lead if more than one Republican in the Senate was ready to lift a finger to help him.
Tom Friedman had a good NYT column yesterday, “No Fooling Mother Nature” on the implications of the BP oil disaster. He joins a long list of folks pleading with the President to seize this leadership moment (see “Is Obama blowing his best chance to shift the debate from the dirty, unsafe energy of the 19th century to the clean, safe energy of the 21st century?“).
There is only one meaningful response to the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and that is for America to stop messing around when it comes to designing its energy and environmental future. The only meaningful response to this man-made disaster is a man-made energy bill that would finally put in place an American clean-energy infrastructure that would set our country on a real, long-term path to ending our addiction to oil.
That is so obviously the right thing for our environment, the right thing for our national security, the right thing for our economic security and the right thing to promote innovation….
This oil spill is to the environment what the subprime mortgage mess was to the markets “” both a wake-up call and an opportunity to galvanize a constituency for radical change that overcomes the powerful lobbies and vested interests that want to keep us addicted to oil.
If President Obama wants to seize this moment, it is there for the taking. We have one of the worst environmental disasters in American history on our hands. We have a public deeply troubled by what they’ve seen already “” and they’ve probably seen only the first reel of this gulf horror show. And we have a bipartisan climate/energy/jobs bill ready to be introduced in the Senate “” produced by Senators John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham “” that would set a price on carbon and begin to shift us to a system of cleaner fuels, greater energy efficiency and unlock an avalanche of private capital to the clean energy market.
American industry is ready to act and is basically saying to Washington: “Every major country in the world, starting with China, is putting in clear, long-term market rules to stimulate clean energy “” except America. Just give us some clear rules, and we’ll do the rest.”
The Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill is an important step in that direction. It is far from perfect….
As the energy consultant David Rothkopf likes to say, sometimes a problem reaches a point of acuity where there are just two choices left: bold action or permanent crisis. This is such a moment for our energy system and environment.
If we settle for just an incremental response to this crisis “” a “Hey, that’s our democracy. What more can you expect?” “” we’ll be sorry. You can’t fool Mother Nature. She knows when we’re just messing around. Mother Nature operates by her own iron laws. And if we violate them, there is no lobby or big donor to get us off the hook. No, what’s gone will be gone. What’s ruined will be ruined. What’s extinct will be extinct “” and later, when we’re finally ready to stop messing around, it will be too late.
Time to act.