An Appropriately Politicized Oil Spill June 16, 2010Posted by Jamie Friedland in Climate Change, Coal, Congress, Offshore Drilling, Politics.
Tags: Climate Change, John Boehner, Mike Pence, Obama, Offshore Drilling, Oil, Oil Spill, Renewable Energy, Republicans
Republicans are accusing President Obama of politicizing this oil spill. They say that he is unfairly pushing his energy agenda instead of solving this Gulf Coast tragedy. They are wrong.
Obama recently addressed the nation about the oil spill in a speech from the Oval Office. Even before he gave that speech, Republicans offered a preemptive rebuttal. House minority leader John Boehner (R-OH) released a statement entitled:
“President Obama Should Not Use Oil Spill Crisis To Push for Job-Killing Nat’l Energy Tax”
Mike Pence (R-IN) explained it from another angle:
“The American People Don’t Want This Administration to Exploit the Crisis in the Gulf to Advance Their Disastrous Energy Policies”
First of all, both of those titles and the press releases themselves are loaded with politicized spin and focus group-tested buzzwords. Way to depoliticize the oil spill, Republicans! Leading by example, as usual.
Secondly, I would ask Mr. Pence to look at the Gulf and tell me whose energy policies are really disastrous – Republicans’ or Democrats’?
Republican criticisms miss their mark because the ongoing oil spill is intimately tied to energy reform. It makes both political and logical sense to connect the two. Even factors you might think are separate are closely related.
For example, retrofitting 75,000 houses would save as much energy – each year – as has spilled into the Gulf since the spill began (maybe a bit less, I don’t know what estimate this calculation used). And the home efficiency legislation (“Home Star”) that recently passed in the House is expected to retrofit 3.3 million homes. If our cars were electric instead of gas-powered, those energy savings could replace our gas usage and we wouldn’t even have needed the oil that is now gushing into the Gulf.
Republicans are complaining because right now because the American public is actually demanding change, and that conflicts with the Republican status quo agenda (see stats in final paragraph).
Those who charge Obama with exploiting this disaster for pure political gain are misrepresenting the situation. Political exploitation would involve only a tangential, non-casual relationship between the initiating disaster and the proposed response – in other words, if the proposed policy did not actually address the event or prevent it from happening again.
For example, political exploitation would be an appropriate accusation if a president attempted to ban wind power after a hurricane or tornado. The connection is tenuous and the solution doesn’t prevent the problem. That is not what’s happening here.
People keep drawing parallels between Hurricane Katrina and this oil spill, but there is a fundamental difference between the two: Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster; the BP oil spill is a manmade disaster in nature. People caused it. And people can keep it from happening again. (The same is obviously not true of hurricanes.)
Hurricanes do not deserve a legislative response. A preventable, manmade disaster of this magnitude most definitely does.
Cheap oil fuels the American life as we know it today. It is our ravenous consumption of petroleum products that drives oil companies to drill ultra-deepwater wells. As we continue to deplete the world’s cheaper, more accessible oil reserves, more dangerous, expensive drilling is the only option.
Yes, BP’s careless corner-cutting and deplorable disregard for safety caused this spill, but they would not be drilling there if we didn’t demand oil so greatly.
So when the President advances a plan to wean America off of its oil addiction, it is not opportunism or political exploitation, it is literally the appropriate response to this catastrophe. The only way to completely eliminate the threat of another blowout is to stop the drilling altogether. And the best way to do that is to end our addiction to oil.
Climate/energy bills, such as that passed by the House last year and the one expected in the Senate soon, essentially seek to accomplish 3 goals:
- Put a price on carbon dioxide emissions.
- Spur aggressive investment in renewable energy technologies.
- Increase our energy security/independence.
Oil is related to all three goals – negatively.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such as carbon dioxide, are what is known in public policy as a “negative externality.” They are an additional cost that is not reflected in the actual price of a good. Oil today is bought and sold at prices that do not reflect the damage that GHG emissions cause. (A “positive externality” would be something like the pleasant smell wafting out of a chocolate factory, for which the company is not compensated for providing.)
Putting a price on carbon will enable the oil market to function more properly because the price of oil will be more accurate (this process is known as “internalizing” the externality). For all their chest-beating about the “free market,” conservatives have done much to stifle the freedom of energy markets.
The only reason oil is so cheap today is because it is massively subsidized. Fossil fuel industries benefit from $550 BILLON EACH YEAR in tax breaks and government subsidies. These subsidies keep prices artificially low.
Our country grows incensed at $4 gas. Did you know that gasoline costs well over $6/gal in many European countries? That’s not because it’s harder to get gas there. America would be in shambles at those prices today. This is a serious vulnerability. And as long as those prices remain so low, they stifle investment in newer, cleaner, renewable sources of energy, and ensure that continue to remain vulnerable to, and dependent upon, oil.
To become energy secure, we must free ourselves from our reliance upon oil. The U.S. passed its oil production peak in 1970, and as we continue to literally run out of American oil, the distinction between “foreign oil” and “oil” will necessarily blur. It is impossible for us to drill our way to energy independence, because we account for 20% of the world’s oil consumption but have just 2% of its remaining supply.
Coal is not an option because of the horrendously large amount of pollution it produces and its outsized contributions to climate change. Nuclear energy will be the topic of a different post, but will not be our silver bullet. The only energy sources that can power our country for generations to come are renewables such as solar, wind and geothermal. We must invest in their research, development, and deployment as quickly as humanly possible.
This is what the President proposes, and it is indeed what we must do. It was the right decision before this oil spill, and it remains the right decision during/after it.
Crises are political opportunities. That is a fact. In such moments, the public demands action, and leaders enjoy leniency not afforded to them under normal circumstances. It is true that leaders have abused these powers in the past: Julius Caesar and Hitler come to mind, and George W. Bush used an attack by a nation-less terrorist group to invade an arbitrary country.
But this is not one of those situations. It is undeniably an opportunity to advance the long-stalled energy agenda, but doing so is a proper and responsible course of action in response to this oil spill.
“To exploit this crisis to resurrect his climate change legislation is just wrong.” –Mike Pence (R-IN).
Fighting climate change and reducing our oil dependence are two sides of the same coin. Doing one accomplishes the other. To reform our energy policy right now without addressing climate would be criminally negligent.
There has been a flurry of energy polling in the wake of the oil spill:
- 87% of Americans favor comprehensive energy legislation that encourages renewable energy sources.
- 76% of Americans support regulating carbons dioxide as a pollutant.
- 69% of Americans think that the US should make a large- or medium-scale effort to reduce global warming even if it incurs large or moderate economic costs.
Tell me, Republicans, who is defying the will of the people?