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BP Disaster: Wake up America and Smell the Crude Oil

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The BP disaster is a wakeup call to America: it's time we all woke up and smelled the crude oil. We are, as President Bush said, addicted to oil and we must break that addiction before more lives are lost, ecosystems destroyed, and families devastated.

Every gallon of fossil fuels polluting the gulf coast is evidence to me that America should ditch the income tax for a carbon tax to "tax what we burn not what we earn." Replacing the income tax with a carbon tax would be a clear and definitive step to a clean energy future -- the moonshot of our generation.

Now I hardly expect today's logjammed Senate to come close to that boldness -- as I've blogged here before, Obama never promised me a Rose Garden -- but I do expect the promised action on energy.

Specifically, when asked how his Presidency should be judged, Obama set a clear marker for his first term in a June 2008 Rolling Stone interview: "If I haven't gotten combat troops out of Iraq, passed universal health care and created a new energy policy that speaks to our dependence on foreign oil and deals seriously with global warming then we've missed the boat. Those are three big jobs, so it's going to require a lot of attention and imagination, and it's going to require the American people feeling inspired enough that they're prepared to take on these big challenges."

Now, 2 years later, BP has wrought ecological, economic, and emotional destruction -- and we need a concerted effort to make things right for the families of the deceased and displaced, and to go forward into a clean energy future. While I would hope for a "tax what we burn not what we earn" economy, I'll take energy reforms and investments as interim steps. At a minimum, we should enhance regulatory oversight, health and safety regulations, lift liability caps to ensure that extractive energy efforts are fully paid for by private industry, and create market incentives to invest in clean energy solutions and stop funding both sides of the war on terror.

Predictably, corporate apologists and global warming skeptics warn that the President is "using" the BP disaster to push a clean energy agenda. I say bravo for him -- I'm glad President Obama woke up and smelled the crude oil. The ongoing BP disaster -- the oil belching from the center of the earth -- is an urgent reminder to President Obama to keep that campaign promise that inspired millions of Americans to work and vote for change.

Polling shows that the American people are far ahead of the corporate apologists on this one. Most Americans do see a connection between the BP disaster and America's addiction to oil that leaves us beholden to the hazards of extractive technologies and the perils of oil-rich dictators. The fact that we have oil company executives and middle east war generals testifying on Capitol Hill on the same day reinforces the public view that oil plays too large a role in our national security and economic recession.

The American people are inspired to take on this big challenge as candidate Obama called it. We support actions to break our addiction to oil, clean up pollution, invest in clean energy jobs, and promote energy independence. Indeed, polling on Clean Energy just released by The Benenson Strategy Group reveals that the BP disaster is intensifying the public's desire for clean energy investments and increased regulation on corporate polluters. People firmly believe Congress needs to do more than just make BP pay. Even when pressed with opposition messaging that now is not the time for some "job killing energy tax," people coalesce around comprehensive clean energy reform.

Specifically, 66% of Americans polled agreed with the statement: "British Petroleum must pay for the damage they've done. But our addiction to oil threatens our security and we need more than a band-aid for that. Senators need to pass real reforms to hold polluters accountable" while only 23% agreed with the statement that "We need to ensure that British Petroleum pays every last dime of the damages they've caused, but Senators would be wrong to try to use this tragedy to pass some huge new Washington program and job-killing energy tax."

The public is there, the House Democrats are there -- time for the President to move the Senate to "create a new energy policy that speaks to our dependence on foreign oil and deals seriously with global warming," Now that's change I can believe in.

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