With the exception of perhaps Rep. Joe Barton, all Americans are alarmed by the pictures coming from the Gulf of Mexico. The destruction and chaos don't just evoke intense concern for the economy, environment, and way of life for that region. They also raise the most urgent questions about the energy choices that brought us to this disaster -- and where we go from here. The Democratic leadership can begin to answer those questions today when they meet tomorrow to chart a path forward for energy and climate legislation this year.
The oil spill has served as a stark reminder of the costs of our national addiction to fossil fuels. The polluted waters and crude-covered pelicans remind us of the ever more dangerous methods we must undertake to drill for oil. Just as harmful to the environment and our way of life, however, is the pollution we can't see: the millions of tons of carbon we dump into the atmosphere every day without consequence, thanks to our economy-wide addiction to fossil fuels.
That addiction is changing our climate in untold ways -- leaving us with the looming environmental disaster of climate change, which threatens to dwarf even the tragedy in the Gulf. As President Obama reminded the country last week, this addiction also threatens our national security and our economy, whether it's sending $100 million a day to Iran, or leaving millions of jobs on the table.
As the New York Times noted in its editorial earlier this week, putting a price on carbon is the best way to treat that addiction -- the only way to unlock the force of the market and really move in a new direction on energy. We have seen too many well-meaning, and even well-timed, efforts at energy reform over the years. Half-solutions are not solutions. We need to put a price on carbon.
Both before and after last week's speech, President Obama and his advisors have kept the door open to capping carbon, perhaps focused initially on electrical utilities (the heaviest emitters of carbon pollution). This could be a good start, but merely suggesting or alluding to it will not be enough to overcome the severe case of paralysis among certain Senators.
During the rescheduled visit to the White House by the Senate's leading energy legislation negotiators, the President must push hard on inclusion of a price on carbon emissions. To fail to do so would represent a failure of leadership in a time of crisis. But this is more than just a test of Presidential leadership - it is a test of whether our political system is still capable of responding to a huge, glaring call for urgent reform with an equally serious commitment to a new direction. If our leaders cannot be galvanized by this horrible spill to finally move us to clean energy, how can we have faith that they will ever do what it takes to reduce America's dependence on fossil fuels?
As a father, something especially struck me in the President's Oval Office address last Tuesday. He said, "What has defined us as a nation since our founding is our capacity to shape our destiny -- our determination to fight for the America we want for our children." My 14-year-old daughter inspired us to make the following video, courtesy of the cast of "Glee" and Fox Entertainment.
It speaks volumes about why we must ensure future generations aren't cleaning up their own oil spills because we failed to act. In the face of tragedy we must choose a new energy future. It's up to Democratic leaders and President Obama to start us down the path.
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