Today it became clear the Senate will go home for the August recess without responding to the BP oil spill. Obstruction among Republican Senate leadership and a handful of recalcitrant Democrats has now grown so strong that not even an environmental disaster lasting more than 100 days can spur action.
It is widely acknowledged that weak safety rules, corrupt government agencies and lax enforcement contributed to the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Yet our lawmakers couldn't find the will to fix these problems and protect the American people when polluters won't.
Nor can they find the wherewithal to confront the larger challenges of America's failed energy policy and struggling economy. Just two weeks ago, the Senate shelved plans to vote on clean energy and climate legislation that would have generated millions of jobs and moved America away from dangerous fuels.
This continued inaction is a testament to Big Oil's stranglehold in Congress.
Last year, the oil and gas industry spent a record $168 million to lobby the U.S. Congress and the administration in Washington. That's not counting the millions spent lobbying officials in Texas, Louisiana, Alaska and other coastal states. Nor does it include advertising intended to influence public opinion on topics such as climate change and the importance of offshore drilling.
Spreading this much money around appears to get results. It has persuaded some lawmakers to place the profits of one sector above the interests of the entire Gulf of Mexico -- its fishing economy, its tourism trade, its coastal communities, its marine ecosystems, its cultural tradition and its families.
I traveled to South Louisiana last month and saw the devastating impacts of the spill firsthand. But you don't have to visit the Gulf yourself to grasp the scale of this tragedy. Watching this brief, haunting video about what the spill is doing to one family alone speaks volumes.
By failing to pass oil spill legislation now, the Senate is leaving other coastal communities vulnerable to this fate -- to the fallout of poorly managed offshore drilling.
And by failing to pass clean energy and climate legislation, the Senate is leaving all Americans vulnerable to the dangers of climate change.
Meanwhile, as the Senate was busy stalling, NRDC helped persuade home appliance manufacturers to agree to new efficiency standards for refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers, dishwashers and room air conditioners. This agreement could save enough energy to meet the total energy needs of 40 percent of American homes for one year and the amount of water equivalent to the water needs of every customer in the City of Los Angeles for 25 years.
If manufactures and efficiency advocates can agree on clean energy solutions, why can't our senators?
When members of Congress from both parties return from enjoying their August vacations, they will have just a short time to redeem themselves. The legislation appears likely to be taken up when the Senate returns in September.
They must come back ready to break the undue influence of Big Oil and to act instead in the interest of all Americans. They must pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that grows the economy, responds to the Gulf spill, and breaks our addiction to oil.
Now is the time for bold action. Not paralysis.