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To Wean U.S. Off Oil, Climate Bill is Key Step

This post originally appeared on the National Journal Energy & Environment Blog.

As we watched helplessly in the last two weeks, the oil rig explosion that caused 11 deaths in the Gulf Coast turned into an unstoppable oil spill. The Gulf spill may eclipse the Exxon Valdez disaster, which crippled many Alaskans’ livelihoods for decades. For the Gulf Coast, still reeling from Hurricane Katrina, the environmental and economic impacts may be devastating.

For our country, this is a crucial moment to pause and reconsider how we produce and use energy and how that energy is linked to the health of our planet.

Enacting climate and energy legislation is the single most important action the United States can take to move away from the dangerous past and into the safer, cleaner future.

As former President Bush said four years ago, the United States is “addicted” to oil. In addition to unsafe domestic production, we’re sending $1 billion a day overseas for foreign oil. Furthermore, we can’t forget that the oil spill comes on the heels of another tragedy: 29 coal miners lost their lives in West Virginia less than a month ago. While 40 percent of our energy comes from oil, much of the rest comes from coal – nearly 23 percent.

The United States has relied on these outdated, dangerous sources of energy since the industrial revolution. It should not take tragedies to remind ourselves that we can do better, but they are a wake-up call to Americans who are sick of what they’re seeing. They know it is past time for clean, safe energy in the United States and past time for the U.S. to play a leadership, rather than a back seat, role in tackling climate change.

Clean energy makes economic, environmental and safety sense. In a struggling economy, we can put Americans back to work -- not just manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines, but also in related skilled scientific, engineering and service roles. Other countries are learning that clean energy generation creates more jobs than fossil fuel generation. Furthermore, making the shift to clean energy will mean we see fewer tragic environmental and social disasters that this month seem to be the norm.

Congress has punted on this issue for years. But we’re now closer than ever to making a change in the right direction. The House of Representatives acted nearly a year ago, and Senators Kerry and Lieberman will introduce a bill in the Senate soon that will give businesses the certainty and incentives they need to jump into the clean energy race. Enacting climate and energy legislation is the single most important action the United States can take to move away from the dangerous past and into the safer, cleaner future.

While people will argue what should and should not be in the Senate bill, doing nothing is irresponsible in light of the risks we are seeing play out in the Gulf right now and we know are part of a warmer world. It’s time to put politics aside and do what is right for the people and the ecosystems that have suffered enough from our dependence on unsafe energy.

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