For the first time since oil started flooding the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama has shown passion and vision about where this unfolding tragedy should lead us — to end our national addiction to oil and other forms of carbon-based energy.
"The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century," the president vowed today in a speech clearly aimed at a rising chorus of critics who, like us, wonder why the president has been so inspirationally absent on what may be this nation’s worst environmental disaster. Last Friday, while standing amid the oily carnage on a Louisiana beach, Obama did little more than pluck a tar ball from the sand and show it to the press. What a letdown. What a missed opportunity.
Today was better.
In a speech on economics at Canegie Mellon University, President Obama steered straight to the oil spill and said it exemplified what we must leave behind on our way to a clean energy future. "I will make the case for a clean-energy future wherever I can, and I will work with anyone from either party to get this done. But we will get this done," he said. He gave a string of assurances and promises about how he will shape that future, among them these:
- Find the votes necessary to pass a comprehensive climate bill, now pending in Congress, that will include a price on carbon.
- Roll back billions of dollars in tax breaks to the oil industry and reinvest them in clean energy alternatives.
- Rely on natural gas as a transitional fuel away from oil and coal.
The president said:
The only way the transition to clean energy will succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future — if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed.
The president also said things that don’t strum every environmentalist’s heart strings – such as seeking a "fleet" of nuclear power plants. Nor did the president openly reject his pre-oil spill plan to expand offshore drilling as part of his compromise to get climate legislation passed. And it will be interesting to see if there are other changes he will advocate in climate legislation wording, such as eliminating attacks on the Clean Air Act that provide massive giveaways to polluters.