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President, Some Members Of Congress Hope BP Spill Will Invigorate Energy Legislation Push

by Jeff Johnson
June 14, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 24

Credit: AFP Photo/Jim Watson/Newscom
Obama got a firsthand look at the unfolding environmental disaster hitting beaches along the Gulf of Mexico during a visit to Port Fourchon Beach, La., on May 28.
Credit: AFP Photo/Jim Watson/Newscom
Obama got a firsthand look at the unfolding environmental disaster hitting beaches along the Gulf of Mexico during a visit to Port Fourchon Beach, La., on May 28.

President Barack Obama and many Democrats in Congress are hoping the BP spill will refuel a drive to pass climate-change legislation that is now stuck in the Senate. But some in Congress aren’t convinced, saying such a bill has a long way to go and should remain stalled.

Speaking on June 2 at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Obama, pointing to the spill, underscored his Administration’s record funding for renewable energy technologies in a focused effort to move the U.S. away from its dependence on fossil fuel.

He warned, however, that if demand for fossil fuels continues to grow, companies will go after increasingly challenging sources. “Risks are bound to increase,” he continued, “the harder oil extraction becomes.”

Obama added, “We also have to acknowledge that an America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and our grandchildren.

“The only way the transition to clean energy will ultimately succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future—if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed,” Obama said. “And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.”

Nearly a year ago, the House of Representatives passed a comprehensive energy and climate bill that addressed carbon pollution, but the Senate did not, the President noted. “And, Pittsburgh,” he continued, “I want you to know, the votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months. I will continue to make the case for a clean-energy future wherever and whenever I can. I will work with anyone to get this done—and we will get it done.”

Immediately after Obama’s speech, Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) praised the President and urged other senators to back their energy package, which includes carbon dioxide cap-and-trade provisions (C&EN, May 17, page 10). But no committee hearings or other actions on their bill have taken place since they introduced it a month ago.

Also speaking up after the President’s speech was Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). In a statement and letter to eight senators who chair committees with energy jurisdiction, Reid said he supports the need to tie energy legislation to the BP spill, to reduce U.S. oil consumption, and to encourage renewable-energy technologies and manufacturing.

Reid asked the committee chairs to report back to him by July 4 on their views of what should be included in energy legislation, and he restated his intention to bring a comprehensive energy bill to the Senate floor by late summer. However, Reid made no mention of carbon dioxide reductions, carbon pricing, or cap-and-trade provisions.

Opposition from Republicans remains strong, with some, including Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a climate-change skeptic and cap-and-trade opponent, chiding Obama for his speech and his intention to push climate legislation, which Inhofe says will be a pointless drain on the economy.

However, other Republicans, such as Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), support Obama’s position. Lugar announced in early June that he will introduce legislation to raise vehicle fuel-efficiency standards and encourage building and industrial energy efficiency. The bill is intended to cut U.S. dependence on oil, coal, and other fossil fuels but once again is short of effort to put a price on carbon.

It is yet to be seen whether Obama and his allies can focus growing anger over the spill sufficiently to drive Americans to support climate-change legislation that carries a hammer big enough to cut carbon emissions while also providing softer incentives to encourage energy efficiency.


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