01/25/2013 12:44 pm ET Updated Mar 27, 2013

As If People Matter

In his inaugural address, President Obama called on "we the people" to embrace the transition towards sustainable energy choices. President Obama proclaimed, "You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time -- not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals." Millions of community activists living daily with the effects of the drilling, mining and production of coal and natural gas are doing just that and are asking President Obama: Will you join us to keep our communities sustainable?

This growing number of people, many active in grassroots organizations, are willing to support and even lead President's Obama's call to action, but first want to make sure that the president's vision for preserving the planet as articulated in his energy policy will hold as a key value that people -- their health, land, and lives -- matter.

People in Pennsylvania and New York want to know whether the gas industry's push to export liquid natural gas will override the concerns about massive methane leaks and dangers to drinking water.

People in Colorado want to know if its scarce water and the seemingly never ending wildfires will finally provoke a change in our energy portfolio.

People in West Virginia want to know when the coal industry's license to destroy their mountains and pollute their streams will be revoked.

President Obama powerfully gave voice to the hopes and yearnings of so many Americans starved for leadership and problem solving on climate change. But the question that lingers is who is calling whom? And who will set the agenda for the next four years to deliver on this promise? Our coalition, "Americans for a Clean Energy Agenda," is comprised of 118 organizations from around the country representing 2 million Americans. Before the election, we issued a call on behalf of "we the people" to the "next president" to use the power of the executive branch to move the country's energy policy toward safe, clean and sustainable energy sources.

We released a blueprint, "The First 100 Days," that detailed ideas and actions that grassroots leaders identified as concrete, practical and meaningful steps the president could take to set us on a path toward the clean energy future, a concept close to being obfuscated by claims of "clean" by the coal industry, the natural gas industry and the never say die advocates of nuclear power. Recent news reports about the president's forthcoming environmental initiatives indicate that for the most part, his policy will be a continuation of the 'all of the above' approach espoused in his first term and throughout the reelection campaign. Unfortunately, It's an agenda that ignores a key principle of today's growing grassroots activism: People -- their health, land, and lives -- matter.

The Obama Administration's dependence on natural gas and "clean coal" is a diversion from the solutions that can be scaled up over time that do not pose a threat to the health and well being of our citizens. Natural gas may burn cleaner, but it produces vast amounts of climate damaging methane, requires massive amounts of water in drilling, risks water pollution and according to the USGS, the wastewater injected into underground injections wells causes earthquakes. Is this a path forward that fulfills our obligations "to posterity"?

The nation needs to be stirred by the brilliant use of language. But rhetoric alone won't connect to the real, on-the-ground concerns of those who live with the immediate effects of the business as usual approach on their communities and the health of their loved ones. There is a way forward however that does. And on that, people in communities are willing to give our all.

The president and the new organization, Organizing for Action, that will push his agenda have a readymade constituency if they are serious about enacting an energy policy that puts public health and safety first. The convenient truth is, that in doing so, we will also solve the climate crisis.