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Will Obama Make History Out of Oil Spill Crisis?

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The word "crisis" in Chinese is composed of two characters. The first represents danger, and the second represents opportunity. President Obama weathered the financial crisis. Today, the President faces his second crisis.

The BP Deepwater Oil Spill will likely be the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The President can continue on his current path -- blame BP (it is BP's fault) and deflect questions about how his offshore oil drilling policies are likely to lead to more spills -- or he could free Americans of one of the main drivers of recessions, environmental disasters, and terror strikes.

What would free America from all of this, and put President Obama firmly in the history books, is merely changing the engines of cars. The President should use this crisis as the opportunity to shift America's cars to 30% plug-in electrics and plug-in hybrids by 2020 and 90% by 2030.

Here's why: Oil prices have been a driver behind recessions since the 1970s. Recent studies now reveal that oil price increases were a major driver behind our current recession.

The President was in an embarrassing place in Copenhagen last December, when he had little to offer a world that waited for his promised leadership on climate change. His current policies cut pollution by 10% of what other countries were promising. More creative, strategic leadership is needed from the White House if the world is to have a fighting chance in saving the climate.

Greenpeace image: The cost of offshore drilling

The President can prevent future recessions, oil spills, embarrassments at climate treaty meetings, wars for oil, and cut off funding for terror attacks by adopting the moonshot proposal put forward by companies like Cisco Systems and PG&E, who called for the electrification of cars in this ambitious, feasible blueprint.

In giving utilities the new, lucrative business of powering cars, the President should demand that all new electricity is clean or efficient (i.e. energy efficiency, offshore wind, regular wind, solar, geothermal), and that utilities accept a cap that is part of a plan to cut global warming pollution by 40% by 2020 and cuts pollution to 350 parts per million of carbon pollution by 2050. Anything less would be fiddling while Rome burns.

There are many ways to go about this:

  1. Simply roll out the blueprint;
Or, if you happen to feel urgency in the time of crises and would like to guarantee success, you do this as well:
  1. Require that 30% of new cars are plug-in by 2020 and 90% are by 2030 through the EPA or Congress;
  2. Rewrite national building codes to include outlets for plugging in cars across the country;
  3. Shift oil subsidies, conservatively estimated at10 billion per year, to making the grid "smart" so that consumers can charge their cars at home at night and power their offices (for money!) during the day;
  4. Require states to implement new rules for buying and selling electricity that favor renewables (time of use metering) and plug-ins without costing consumers more. This, plus the building codes, could be tied to highway funding or other programs;
  5. Providing tax incentives to plug-in buyers; and
  6. Simple steps laid out in the blueprint.

Simply implementing the blueprint would cut the emissions associated with transportation by over 50% by 2030. The grid improvements needed to make the grid smart would enable solar, battery storage, wind, and other renewables to play a much more significant part in America's energy production, moving America one more step towards the energy revolution.

The President can remain defensive, pointing fingers at BP, while gambling the health of our communities and economies on more offshore oil drilling, or he can be one of the great leaders of our times.

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