06/05/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama on Energy: Two Steps Forward, One Big Step Back

During a week of highs and lows, President Obama sent us mixed signals on his commitment to true clean energy solutions in the United States.

Here's a recap of last week's game of energy hopscotch: the significant steps forward with a national greenhouse gas reduction standard for vehicles and new restrictions on the devastating practice of mountaintop removal, as well as the monumental step back with President Obama's announcement of the largest expansion of offshore oil and natural gas drilling in half a century.

Making Progress

Last Thursday, the Obama administration took historic action towards curbing the nation's global warming footprint by establishing a greenhouse gas reduction standard for motor vehicles that would extend California's 2002 Clean Cars law nationwide.

The new rules require automakers to build cars and light duty trucks that average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, thereby reducing global warming pollution by nearly 30 percent, saving an estimated 1.8 billion barrels of oil, and resulting in healthier air and lower fuel costs.

On the same day, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson announced a major new decision to crack down on Clean Water Act violations from mountaintop removal coal mining. This occurred less than two weeks after activists dangled from 20-foot tripods on the lawn of the EPA's D.C. headquarters, releasing a 25-foot banner calling for an end to mountaintop removal.

Mountaintop removal is a destructive practice that involves clear cutting forests, blowing the tops off of mountains to access the coal below, and then dumping the debris into valleys and streambeds. In the process, mountaintop removal poisons essential drinking water, pollutes the air, and costs potential jobs in other industries while the number of coal miners continues to shrink (the number of miners in West Virginia has declined from more than 60,000 to just 22,000 since 1979).

Jackson cited new EPA studies concluding that dumping coal mining waste into valleys and waterways has permanently destroyed ecosystems in Appalachia with toxicity levels up to 50 percent beyond what guidelines permit.

Let's hope this decision is the beginning of the end for the nightmare of mountaintop removal.

For these steps forward in the fight against climate chaos and environmental injustice, the Obama administration is to be lauded.

A Big Backward Step

However, President Obama's disappointing announcement last Wednesday to open large expanses of America's coastline to offshore drilling eliminates the momentum that could have been create with the transportation and mining advances.

President Obama proposed to lift a decades-old moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the United States, permitting drilling in vast swaths of ocean along the eastern seaboard, the Gulf Coast, and within the Arctic Ocean, all in the name of currying political favor for the passage of a climate bill.

This plan is, simply put, running on empty.

Beyond poor politics, opening 167 million acres of pristine ocean to drilling is poor policy. Expanded drilling threatens our coastal communities while perpetuating our dependence on dirty fossil fuels.

Drilling pads the greasy pockets of Big Oil while doing virtually nothing to make gas more affordable for Americans at the pump. President Obama's plan fails to hold Big Oil accountable on royalty reform. Because of this, the plan will leave taxpayers shortchanged by billions of dollars.

You don't need me to tell you this plan doesn't make sense. Listen to Obama himself. In June 2008, candidate Obama told a crowd of coast-dwellers in Jacksonville, FL that offshore drilling "would only worsen our addiction to oil and put off investments in clean, renewable energy."

The United States consumes 25 percent of the world's oil, but has only three percent of the world's reserves. There likely won't be any oil from these new offshore areas until 2017, and full production won't ramp up until 2030.

Meanwhile, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that onshore U.S. wind resources could generate nearly 37 million gigawatt-hours (GWh) of clean energy every year, more than nine times the amount of energy Americans consume each year. Investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency have the potential to create 14.5 million more jobs by 2050 than continued reliance on fossil fuels, cutting our dependence on fossil fuels and our global warming pollution.

We've seen a reversal like this before. We can't stake our future or our economy on antiquated energy. Now, more than ever, President Obama should heed the advice of candidate Obama. Let's stop fooling around with gimmicks and invest in the truly clean energy our country needs.