Fix the real problem: end America’s energy vulnerability
The ongoing oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has taken an enormous toll on the region's economy. BP's Deepwater Horizon rig gushes as much oil every five to 10 days as the Exxon Valdez released overall-and there's no end in sight. The economies of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Florida will be devastated for decades to come.
Some oil companies, such as Chevron, claim that this is an isolated incident caused by a sloppy company, with its damages confined to the gulf states. But it is a symptom of true national crisis-a crisis caused by our oil dependence and our unwillingness to release a national economy held hostage by fossil fuels. This manmade disaster underscores the harsh consequences of delay in addressing our currently unsustainable energy and economic development path.
The current crisis demands that we do far more than protect communities in the Gulf of Mexico. As President Barack Obama himself has said, we must 'make certain a spill like this never happens again.' Our national response must drive a sustained effort to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We must target the structural causes of our vulnerability to oil in an effort to rebuild and strengthen our national economy while restoring the economic health of oil-dependent regions.
The debate about the BP oil disaster has so far focused largely on how to keep drilling more safely-as if oil is the oxygen in the very air we breathe. But there are alternatives: alternatives to oil, and alternatives to the stranglehold that fossil fuels have on the American economy. Public support for these alternatives grows with each new barrel of oil flowing into the gulf. It is high time for Congress and the Obama administration to step up and heed this call to action.
Cleaning up and rebuilding the gulf will take much long-term strategic thinking and planning, but this should not come at the expense of immediate action. BP cannot and should not be trusted to manage the real-time information and data that will inform the rebuilding because their interests are inherently not aligned with those of the American people. The Obama administration must take the reins, deploy the military in playing a leadership role in the cleanup, keep BP on the financial hook, and give the American people an accurate picture of what is happening on the ground.
President Obama must deliver on his core campaign promise of accountability and transparency like he did with his leadership in passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The president should establish an independent Gulf Recovery Oversight Board to manage the cleanup and recovery efforts and make the information and data associated with them accessible to the public via GulfRecovery.gov. This type of bold action will send the message that this type of disaster cannot and will not happen again.
Building a clean energy strategy will not be easy and the president cannot do it alone. Congress has made significant advances in laying out serious legislative proposals over the past year that offer concrete proposals, not only for reigning in our carbon emissions, but also for getting off fossil fuels and rebuilding our economy on the firm foundation of energy innovation. Yet Congress is only one step into a truly comprehensive strategy to build a clean energy economy.
If we are to turn the BP oil disaster into economic opportunity and reduce our strategic vulnerability to fossil fuel dependence, the president and Congress must see this crisis in its true light. It is not a crisis caused only by BP or even by our oil dependence alone. It is a disaster borne from an economic strategy that is based on dwindling and dangerous fossil fuels. There is a path out of this mess:
- We must better regulate oil while moving the country beyond our dependence on oil.
- We must aggressively invest in alternative energy technologies, including energy efficiency programs.
- And we must finally cap and price carbon pollution, meeting the global commitment to bring carbon emissions down to at least 17 percent below 2005 emissions by 2020.
These efforts, taken together, can propel the United States along the path to ending oil dependence, rebuilding our economy on a low-carbon foundation, and meeting the climate pollution reduction targets outlined in House and Senate legislation, even in the absence of a congressionally authorized carbon trading system. And it will preserve and enhance clean air and clean water for our children and their children.
We are at a time unlike any other in history. The president, Congress, and the American people must think big and realize that the 21st century economy will not be powered by the same 20th century engines. We need a strategy that will get us back to work, wean us off dirty energy from hostile nations, bring health and economic benefits to countless Americans, and drive the long-term American prosperity and strength to which we are accustomed. We need a clean energy future, and we need to start building it now.
Moving away from our dependence on oil
The path forward to a new energy economy must begin with a direct response to the current crisis. That means it must begin with oil. We must stop risking workers' lives and putting taxpayers on the hook to pay for our country's oil dependence. We need comprehensive oil reform legislation that protects us from future production disasters, reduces our oil use, promotes the transition to less polluting fuels and a new generation of vehicles, cuts oil industry subsidies, and generates revenue to help us reduce our consumption of oil.
The Center for American Progress has proposed an oil reform agenda that regulates the oil industry while also moving the country away from our utter dependence on that industry. We propose:
- Eliminating the liability limit for offshore oil disasters, which currently caps oil spill liability at $75 million
- Requiring BP to put $5 billion-its first quarter 2010 profits-into an escrow fund to ensure prompt payments for cleanup and compensation
- Requiring all oil companies active in the region to invest in a long-term economic development fund to reverse the decades of damage that the oil and gas industry has done to wetlands and the overall economy
- Adopting the recommendations for offshore oil-well safety in the Interior Department's 'Increased Safety Measures for Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf' report, including better back-up systems and more complete inspections
- Implementing fuel economy and alternatively fueled vehicle measures that will produce a 7 million barrel-per-day reduction in oil use by 2030 with interim reductions, and empowering the president to implement these measures to reach that goal
- Significantly reducing oil use from vehicles by establishing 40 mile-per-gallon fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks by 2020, and establishing the first fuel economy standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks
- Powering trucks and buses with natural gas by enacting the NAT GAS Act
- Powering cars with electricity by enacting the Electric Vehicle Deployment Act
- Eliminating taxpayer subsides that benefit big oil companies
- Invoking the Trade Expansion Act to levy a fee on imported oil and use the revenue from this fee to invest in public transit, high-speed rail, and infrastructure for electric and natural gas vehicles