Move over, BP executives. It seems they aren't the only ones saying dumb things. As chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg was coming under fire for declaring, "We care about the small people," at the White House on Wednesday, leading Republicans were warning President Barack Obama not to use the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a call to arms for a cleaner energy policy. It appears the longtime cheerleaders for drilling and deregulation — whose policies helped wreak the nation's worst environmental disaster — still want to lead the parade.
The idea that the party of drill-baby-drill has credibility left on energy policy should be laughable. The environmental and economic costs of this ever-worsening spill are so great that BP came forward Wednesday with $20 billion to begin paying damage claims to fishermen and other business owners across the Gulf Coast. Yet this hasn't stopped Republicans from trying to make Democrats the enemy. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday that "now is not the time" to push for a new energy strategy. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking member of the Senate's environment and public works committee, ridiculed the notion that a clean energy debate was a pressing issue, saying "it remains a mystery" how a new energy strategy and the gulf disaster are linked.
If the multibillion-dollar threat to the livelihoods of millions of residents across four gulf states does not make a connection between drilling and the nation's energy policy, then simple math alone makes the case that the United States cannot continue to rely on its addiction to fossil fuels.
America consumes one-fourth of the world's oil but has 5 percent of its population. Compared to Europe and Asia, the United States invests little in alternative energy. Only recently have U.S. automakers taken the first serious steps to manufacture more fuel-efficient cars. Transportation accounts for 70 percent of America's demand for oil. And as devastating as the gulf spill has been, the 100 million or so gallons leaked so far is what the United States consumes in three hours.
The important question now is how far Congress can get on an energy bill before the summer recess. The Senate looks nowhere close to adopting the comprehensive energy bill the House passed last summer. But the Senate could at least start on the long haul toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions by passing a carbon tax on utilities. If the gulf spill — which will continue leaking oil for months and impact the gulf states for years — does not present the incentive to wean America off oil and toward a cleaner, more sustainable future, then a real opportunity to learn from the spill and act on it will have been regrettably lost.