In a speech at Georgetown University today, President Barack Obama outlined a modest vision for improving our nation’s energy security — a vision that is unfortunately bold and ambitious by the standards of today’s Washington DC politics. With a Republican Party running full-tilt into Big Oil fealty and climate denial, with a significant bloc of the Democratic Party that believes protecting the economy means protecting coal barons, with thousands of polluter lobbyists flooding the system, even the dangerous status quo is difficult to maintain. Obama hinted at that toxic reality near the end of his speech, when he castigated the “some folks” — that is, the fossil fuel industry and their conservative allies — that want to cut clean-energy investment and increase global warming pollution:
As we debate our national priorities and our budget in Congress, we’re going to have to make tough choices. We’re going to have to cut what we don’t need to invest in what we do need. Unfortunately, some folks want to cut critical investments in clean energy. They want to cut our research and development into new technologies. They’re shortchanging the resources necessary even to promptly issue new permits for offshore drilling. These cuts would eliminate thousands of private sector jobs, it would terminate scientists and engineers, and end fellowships for researchers — some who may be here at Georgetown — graduate students and other talent we desperately need to get into this area in the 21st century.
That doesn’t make sense.
We’re already paying a price for our inaction. Every time we fill up at the pump; every time we lose a job or a business to countries that invest more than we do in clean energy; when it comes to our air, our water, and the climate change that threatens the planet that you will inherit — we are already paying a price. These are the costs we’re already bearing. And if we do nothing, that price will only go up.
So at moments like these, sacrificing these investments in research and development, supporting clean energy technologies, that would weaken our energy security and make us more dependent on oil, not less. That’s not a game plan to win the future. That’s a vision to keep us mired in the past. I will not accept that outcome for the United States of America. We are not going to do that.
Although Obama outlined steps to maintain incremental progress with somewhat stronger fuel economy standards, a gradual increase in low-carbon electricity, and investment in advanced biofuels, he failed to deliver a “game plan to win the future.” The harsh reality is that we need leadership that ends our dependence on fossil fuels within the next few decades. And that requires leadership that chooses to accept actual reality instead of political “reality.” The president noted that increasing domestic drilling for oil isn’t a long-term solution for energy security, but made it the primary plank of his speech. He noted that “we can’t drill our way out” of our problems, but called for incentives for major increases in natural gas and oil drilling, citing the influence of T. Boone Pickens. He spent literally only one sentence mentioning policies that would actually reduce gas costs, cut oil dependence, and clean the air:
We’ve also made historic investments in high-speed rail and mass transit, because part of making our transportation sector cleaner and more efficient involves offering Americans — urban, suburban, and rural — the choice to be mobile without having to get in a car and pay for gas.
The choice President Obama presented in his speech today is between running back into the 19th century with the Grand Oil Party or slogging timidly ahead. The real world is moving much faster than Washington, DC can handle, and we need much more than the half-measures offered today to survive.