Disaster adds urgency to climate bill

The tragedy now unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico has spurred calls for a rapid shift away from fossil fuels and towards clean, renewable energy – and that’s exactly the right response. America’s voracious appetite for oil must be curbed before our nation can move away from dirty, damaging – and sometimes, as the current crisis shows – disastrous drilling for oil in our lands and waters.

The events of the past two weeks have shown once again that oil companies cannot effectively eliminate the threats that drilling off of U.S. shores pose to the health of marine wildlife, fisheries and coastal economies. It’s unconscionable that we should expand this threat by increasing our offshore oil exploration. In fact, we should be looking for ways to reduce our use of oil, to ease the continuing pressure to find more stores of oil, whether here in the United States or abroad.

There are a number of steps the United States should be taking to reduce our dependence on oil. In April, the Obama administration announced new fuel economy standards for automobiles that will, when they take effect, start to dramatically reduce the amount of gasoline burned in our cars and trucks each year, cutting oil use, global warming pollution and other types of air pollution. But much more will be needed, particularly as our nation’s fleet of electric cars expands and draws energy from our electricity grid, which is largely fueled by coal-burning power plants that also contribute to global climate change.

To truly move beyond dirty, climate-changing fossil fuels like oil and coal, we must rapidly expand our investments in clean renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Renewable power from large-scale solar and wind farms can help to speed up the transition to a clean-energy future, as long as we also make sure that renewable development is done right, in the places that it makes the most sense. Siting renewable energy facilities should be done in the most sustainable way possible – near existing transmission lines, on fallowed farmland or on the plentiful former industrial sites and abandoned mines – before we raze pristine lands and destroy additional wildlife habitat. Poorly located clean energy projects aren’t really clean.

This week, we’ll see long-awaited comprehensive climate and energy legislation from Senators Kerry and Lieberman. The primary goal of this legislation must be to move our nation away from fossil fuels and towards clean, safe renewable power. This bill should certainly not include an expansion of offshore drilling, one of the most environmentally dangerous sources of fuel. America’s coastal communities, fisheries and wildlife are just too valuable for offshore drilling that we cannot control. 

Logically, a climate and energy bill that rejects expansion of dangerous fossil fuels and embraces our clean energy future should win broad support from the public and the Senate. We’re hoping that logic, not political gamesmanship, will win the day.

This post originally appeared in National Journal’s Expert Blog.