What's happened in Congress during the last two weeks on energy and drilling issues could send us several major steps backwards on the road to a clean and prosperous energy future.
As I write this, Congress—instead of passing measures to further increase fuel efficiency and reduce oil demand—is capitulating to the "drill, baby, drill" drumbeat. At midnight, two critical moratoriums will lapse: on offshore drilling and oil shale development in the West. At the same time, crucial tax incentives for wind and solar energy have yet to be renewed.
Earthjustice's Policy and Legislation team in DC have been in the thick of fighting provisions that would make America even more reliant on dirty fuels. Extraction and processing of these fuels—tar sands, oil shale and liquid coal—can produce more than twice the global warming pollution as conventional oil. Supporting these fuels through tax incentives is completely at odds with mandatory carbon reductions that Congress must enact if we have any chance of slowing global warming.
Proponents of "drill, baby, drill" have also proposed attacks on our environmental protections at the most fundamental levels. Blaming energy problems on lawsuits rather than on years of profoundly misguided policy, some members of Congress have introduced bills and raised the call to exempt energy projects from complying with environmental laws while stripping citizens of their right to enforce those laws.
I predict that over time, Americans won't stand for this and will realize that the "drill, baby, drill" chants were completely misguided. We are awake to the dangers of global warming, and we want real solutions. Scientists tell us that global warming and its impacts on wildlife and habitat will become a leading cause of species extinction over the next several decades, and that hundreds of species such as polar bears and sea turtles—along with coral reefs and other native habitats—are already being affected.
We know that clean energy technologies are out there, and more are coming, to counter the need for fuels that impose dire environmental costs. Yet Congress remains deadlocked on passing the tax incentives needed to give renewable energy a sound footing in the U.S. This most recent political circus will leave the future of offshore drilling, incentives for renewables, and a sound energy policy to the next Congress and the next President, and to the good sense of the American people.
When the debate resumes, Earthjustice will be pushing the new administration and Congress to restore protections for our coasts and to firmly place America on the path to a new energy future. An aggressive clean energy agenda coupled with a serious effort to more efficiently use the energy we have can create much-needed jobs here at home, save all of us money and help save the planet while we are at it.