Monday, June 14, 2010

The Biggest Moment In Obama's Presidency

Put aside health care reform, financial reform, immigration reform, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and every other important issue on the table since President Obama took office.

Tomorrow the President will give his first speech from the Oval Office about the Gulf Coast Oil Spill and it will provide a historic opportunity for Obama to correct course and save his presidency by coming out forcefully for a transition to a clean energy economy and pressuring Congress to act with urgency on passing comprehensive climate change legislation.

However, if Obama simply scolds British Petroleum for causing the worst environmental disaster in American history, then it will be a failure for the President and the country. This is a time when great leaders seize the moment and rise up for the greater good.

This means telling the American people some hard truths. That our way of life fueled by fossil energy must change and that BP would not be drilling here if it wasn't for our insatiable appetite for oil. Some people don't want to hear that their way of life is not sustainable. That's OK. They still need to hear it.

If President Obama connects the clean energy dots for the American people and creates the kind of urgent momentum he did for health care reform, then the future is bright indeed as it will jump start the stalled climate change legislation in Congress and set a framework for the rest of Obama's first term in office.

But if he blows this golden opportunity and gets caught up in talking about the blame game, how much BP should pay, legal issues or how we need safer offshore oil drilling, then it will a sad day for the United States and this administration.

So which Obama will show up Tuesday on national television? Will it be the Obama who simply reacted to the oil spill but didn't say anything about ending our addiction to oil? Or will it be the Obama who in a recent speech at Carnegie Mellon University said the following:

"Consider what we’ve done with clean energy.  The tax credits and loan guarantees in the Recovery Act alone will lead to 720,000 clean energy jobs in America by 2012 -- 720,000.  (Applause.)  I’ll give you one example.  The United States used to make less than 2 percent of the world’s advanced batteries for hybrid cars.  By 2015, because of the investments that we made, we’ll have enough capacity to make up to 40 percent of these batteries.  
Now, this brings me to an issue that’s on everybody’s minds right now -- namely, what kind of energy future can ensure our long-term prosperity.  The catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf right now may prove to be a result of human error, or of corporations taking dangerous shortcuts to compromise safety, or a combination of both.  And I’ve launched a National Commission so that the American people will have answers on exactly what happened.  But we have to acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth, and these are risks -- (applause) -- these are risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes.  We also have to acknowledge that an America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and our grandchildren.  (Applause.) 
We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves.  So without a major change in our energy policy, our dependence on oil means that we will continue to send billions of dollars of our hard-earned wealth to other countries every month -- including countries in dangerous and unstable regions.  In other words, our continued dependence on fossil fuels will jeopardize our national security.  It will smother our planet.  And it will continue to put our economy and our environment at risk.
Now, I understand that we can’t end our dependence on fossil fuels overnight.  That’s why I supported a careful plan of offshore oil production as one part of our overall energy strategy.  But we can pursue such production only if it’s safe, and only if it’s used as a short-term solution while we transition to a clean energy economy.
And the time has come to aggressively accelerate that transition.  The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future.  (Applause.)  Now, that means continuing our unprecedented effort to make everything from our homes and businesses to our cars and trucks more energy-efficient.  It means tapping into our natural gas reserves, and moving ahead with our plan to expand our nation’s fleet of nuclear power plants.  It means rolling back billions of dollars of tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development.  
But the only way the transition to clean energy will ultimately 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.  And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.   
No, many businesses have already embraced this idea because it provides a level of certainty about the future.  And for those that face transition costs, we can help them adjust.  But if we refuse to take into account the full costs of our fossil fuel addiction -- if we don’t factor in the environmental costs and the national security costs and the true economic costs -- we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future.
The House of Representatives has already passed a comprehensive energy and climate bill, and there is currently a plan in the Senate -- a plan that was developed with ideas from Democrats and Republicans -- that would achieve the same goal.  And, Pittsburgh, I want you to know, the votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months.  (Applause.)  I will continue to make the case for a clean energy future wherever and whenever I can.  (Applause.)  I will work with anyone to get this done -- and we will get it done.
The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century.  We are not going to move backwards.  We are going to move forward. "

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