Another 2x4 to the head
Q: Could the oil spill really have far-reaching implications for America's energy future? Should it?
The continuing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is yet another reminder of the risks of our current energy policy -- or lack thereof. Will the Senate stand idly by as oil devastates one of the richest ecosystems on Earth? Congress can't undo the damage that has been done, but it can accelerate the transition to alternatives - biofuels, natural gas, electricity - that can reduce the nation's utter dependence on a single fuel for transportation.
The litany is familiar but worth repeating: Oil imports cost U.S. citizens hundreds of billions of dollars a year - money, as Jim Woolsey puts it, that we borrow from the Chinese to pay the Saudis. This creates not only a security risk, but an economic vulnerability - if oil has maintained a price around $70 a barrel in the midst of a severe recession, how high will it go when the world's economies are booming again? Oil and coal are also the principal industrial sources of carbon dioxide emissions that are changing the global climate, and the world has just had the warmest April ever recorded.
So there is ample and urgent cause for Congress to act -- both to address the specific breakdowns that led to the tragedy in the Gulf and to take bold steps to provide Americans with new choices in transportation fuels. The most attractive of these is electricity -- not least because its infrastructure is already ubiquitous -- but electricity is only as clean as the power plants that produce it, so an integrated response would also emphasize renewable resources like wind and solar and incentives for switching generation from coal to gas.
If the oil spill serves to overcome the political inertia in Congress and spur some of these needed steps on energy policy, then and only then will the legacy of the Deepwater Horizon be anything other than an unmitigated catastrophe.