President Obama has stopped the permitting process for drilling in the Arctic. In the wake of the BP Gulf oil spill disaster, the administration’s moratorium will be in place until the cause of the Gulf spill has been determined and new environmental rules are imposed. (New York Times coverage of President’s announcement)
While a practical response to current oil spill, this may also aid the administration in pressing forward to develop a more sustainable energy policy. President Obama campaigned for an end to excessive dependence on foreign oil. This put him in favor of more offshore oil drilling, development of a new generation of nuclear power plants, as well as government support for new green technologies such as wind, solar and improved mileage standards for vehicles. However, the President has not had universal support for green technology initiatives on the one hand, and has not gone far enough to address environmental concerns related to increased oil drilling, nuclear and climate change, on the other.
The U.S. populace is a reckless consumer of energy with little regard for the geopolitical or environmental consequences. In contrast, Europe charges high gasoline taxes to discourage fossil fuel consumption. Current legislation on climate change is a huge first step, but our nation needs bold leadership to move forward in energy policy, threading the needle of politically sound choices, management of limited resources and promotion of economic growth.
The President should seize the initiative during the moratorium period. Of course, current dependence on oil, including foreign oil, cannot be changed overnight. But developing policies that point in the right direction, towards sustainable energy with environmental safeguards should be the top priority goal of the administration. We need fifty-year and 100-year plans. The fact that technologies will change over time beyond our current understanding, does not alleviate our need to chart a responsible course now.
President Obama and the Democratic Congress face political challenge because of the economic downturn. But that is looking backward. Going forward, the Democrats should propose and campaign for transforming American energy policy. Such a policy would clearly distinguish Democratic and Republican candidates in November. It would offer international leadership above and beyond the tone of collaboration ushered in by Mr. Obama, and would begin the necessary public dialogue about a system for the use of resources and an accounting for damage to the environment that is appropriate for sustained progress and development.
The old model of environmental advocates lobbying for regulation of business served to pressure businesses to eliminate the worst of their pollution while businesses protected their profit potential. However, what is needed now, is long-term, visionary policy that promotes green technologies, but also engages the public in the transformation from destructive consumption and development to sustainable management of the earth’s precious resources.
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, said just after the election. A year later we have some significant progress in financial reform.
The Gulf oil rig tragedy has temporarily refocused attention on the dangers and mismanagement of energy policy. Now is the time to act boldly!