Obama's missed opportunities
By Kate Sheppard
Throughout the past month, advocates for climate and energy reform have been hoping that President Obama would use the environmental nightmare in the Gulf of Mexico to illustrate the need to end our reliance on fossil fuels. The oil spill came at the heels of one of the worst coal mining disasters in U.S. history down in West Virginia. The president couldn't ask for two more graphic examples of why our energy system is dirty and dangerous.
In the midst of these tragic headlines, a pair of senators unveiled comprehensive climate and energy legislation. Their bill is at best a compromise, a centrist approach to a problem that needs a revolutionary change. But it's a bill that retains many of the broad goals of the House-passed measure, and would be a first step in attacking two of America's biggest challenges.
But instead of using this opportunity, Obama has remained hands-off on the Senate debate. In his weekly address Saturday, he announced the formation of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, a new panel "tasked with providing recommendations on how we can prevent – and mitigate the impact of – any future spills that result from offshore drilling." But Obama yet again missed an opportunity to talk about how the spill illustrates the need to approve a far-reaching new energy agenda. Instead, he gave passing acknowledgment to clean energy, while digging in further his belief that we need to drill for oil offshore.
His senior adviser David Axelrod made a halfhearted effort to promote Senate action on MSNBC this morning, but was also less than convincing. "I would like to think that this will increase the sense of urgency in Congress, because it underscores the value in developing alternative sources of energy," he said. "So I hope that it will give added impetus to Congress to come up with and pass a comprehensive plan."
But where's Obama? The climate and energy bill in Congress faces uncertain legislative prospects, and rather than uniting Democrats, questions about offshore drilling threaten to drive them even further apart. This bill has no hope of going anywhere unless Obama starts to give it some direction.
It was Obama's own chief of staff Rahm Emanuel who said shortly after the election that "you never want a serious crisis to go to waste," referring to the economic meltdown. But the administration is certainly wasting this one.
Kate Sheppard covers energy and environmental politics in Mother Jones's Washington bureau. For more of her stories, see here, and you can follow her on Twitter here.