Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The speech I wish I had heard

Tonight was President Obama's first address to the nation from the Oval Office, dealing with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and I watched it at home. I was excited at the possibility that a major initiative or dramatic breakthrough would be announced. The speech read in part:
For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked -- not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.
The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.
We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America’s innovation and seize control of our own destiny.
What followed was a fairly tame and blandly reassuring. Of course, the citizens of the Gulf coast states who can see oil washing up on beaches near their houses, destroying the wildlife and their livelihoods need some reassuring, and it's good to have such a strong statement of support coming from the very top. But in terms of specific solutions, it was overwhelmingly lacking and generally vague. The president gave shout-outs to energy-efficient cars and home renovations, but otherwise, spoke only in generalities. I wish he had continued on, saying something along these lines:
And therefore, I am permanently suspending and rescinding all permits issued for oil drilling in the coastal waters of the United States. It is now clear that there is no such thing as completely safe oil drilling when offshore rigs are floating a mile above the ocean floor, just as it is clear that our dependence on oil and other dirty fuels--both domestically and internationally produced--is a huge strategic liability.

Furthermore, I have tonight sent a message to the Congress asking the House and Senate to enact a new carbon pollution tax, to take effect immediately. For too long, dirty fuels have gotten a free ride, contaminating our air and water at no cost to the polluter, while technologies such as wind and solar have struggled to match the price of these dirtier energy sources. The legislation enabling this new tax on pollution will level the playing field for new clean energy solutions, ushering in the post-fossil fuel era.

Transportation accounts for seventy percent of all United States oil consumption and a third of our carbon emissions, and so I am asking the Congress to establish a new excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, at the rate of fifteen cents per gallon, to be increased by five cents each year. In 30 years' time, the cost of a gallon at the pump may finally approximate the estimated true costs of the fuel, estimated today at over $5.00 per gallon, once environmental, health and other factors are added in.

I know this measure will be unpopular in some quarters and with some Members of Congress, but I am prepared to convene and reconvene Congress using my authority under Article II, Section iii of the Constitution until both chambers shall have passed such a pollution-control regime. This measure will be the biggest single shot in the arm of alternative energy that the federal government can provide. If we are serious about pursuing clean energy sources, it is the only reasonable step we can take.

Then, I would have been satisfied to hear these words, actually spoken by the President.
Now, there are costs associated with this transition. And there are some who believe that we can’t afford those costs right now. I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy -– because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater.

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