05/10/2010 03:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

BP Oil Spill Shifting the Politics of Clean Energy

What would you do if you were a politician these days?

With hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spewing uncontrollably into the Gulf of Mexico and threatening the livelihood of thousands of blue-collar workers would you take a few hundred thousand for your election campaign from your friendly local multinational oil company?

With dead sea turtles showing up on beaches, would you stand up right now and pump your fist to "Drill Baby Drill"?

According to new polling out in the last couple of days looking at public opinion in light of the deadly oil disaster playing out in the Gulf of Mexico, I would suggest to any politician of any political stripe that it is a very bad time to be an oil industry cheerleader.

A poll released today by Clean Energy Works finds that 59% of voters agree that:

"Now is the time for Senators to take action. Oil companies and lobbyists have fought energy reform for decades to protect their profits. Our dependence on oil hurts our economy, helps our enemies and puts our security at risk. It's time to put America back in control - with clean energy that's made in America and works for America."

On a more positive note, I would suggest that it is a very good time to be talking about the need to put in place strong federal policies that shift the country's reliance away from dirty fossil fuels like coal and oil and move quickly to replace these energy sources with things like wind, solar and geothermal power.

On that note, a poll released late last week by the Knoxville-based Shelton Group found that, "20% [of American] said they planned to reduce their gas consumption in light of the accident and 14% said they planned to reduce their consumption of plastic products and products sold in plastic containers."

Of even more political implication was the finding in the Shelton poll that 42% agreed or strongly agreed that:

"The recent West Virginia coal mine disaster and the oil spill in the Gulf have made me think more about the human and environmental costs associated with my own energy consumption."

The nation and the world are focused on this issue. What many people knew in theory was bad about fossil fuels is being driven home every day with non-stop news coverage of disturbing new revelations coupled with very vivid imagery that words could never describe.

And by the looks of things it's only going to get worse. As a politician, this is a very good time to be on the right side of the clean energy debate in America.

But don't take it from me.

Here's what the former Vice President Al Gore
had to say on the issue in a very in-depth piece published late last week in the New Republic:

"The unpleasant reality now spilling onto the shores of the Gulf Coast is creating public outrage and may also be generating a new opportunity to pass legislation, just as the oil spill 20 years ago from the Exxon Valdez created public momentum sufficient to overcome the anti-environment special interests."

There is a clean energy bill already passed in the House of Representatives, but the Senate remains unable to muster the votes. There has never been a better time than right now to pressure political leaders on both sides of the aisle to take action on this issue.

The stage is set and any politician who does the right thing and stands up in favor of strong clean energy legislation will reap the rewards.