Energizing America

June 15, 2010

Tonight, President Obama is addressing the nation from the Oval Office regarding the BP oil spill and America’s response.  While the focus of the speech is rightfully going to be BP and the immediate response to the crisis in the Gulf, the tragedy also has brought attention to the true cost of America’s dependence on fossil fuels and the need for a national energy strategy.  A sustainable approach to energy that invests in securing clean energy and combating climate change makes America a more secure and powerful nation.  American business leaders recognize this and in growing numbers support a comprehensive energy strategy from the government to spark innovation in energy technology that will be a boost to our economy – as well as our security and global influence.  As Bill Gates said this past weekend, “the government has to prime the pump here.”  Conservatives who choose political posturing over constructive action are putting themselves at odds with business, military and science leaders – not the way to get out of the mess we’re in.

Disaster in the Gulf highlights the need to reduce America’s dependence on oil – and public willingness to do what it takes.   The environmental disaster in the Gulf caused by BP, which will have massive consequences for both our environment and our economy, confirms the need for America to chart a new national energy policy.  The New York Times writes, that “The venue says it all. By choosing to speak to the nation on Tuesday night for the first time from the Oval Office, where his predecessors have spoken of wars and disasters, President Obama is conveying the gravity of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”  While the focus of the speech is on the BP spill, this is also an opportunity for the administration to push for a clean energy future. As Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress recommends, “President Obama must use his inspirational skills to rally support for a 21st century clean energy agenda. The fate of the gulf-and the rest of the nation-depends on his success.”  The Huffington Post reports that, “President Obama will hit at least five major points during his prime time address from the Oval Office on Tuesday evening, a senior administration officials tells the Huffington Post. But the main focus and strongest emphasis will be on the administration’s battle plan for containing and cleaning up the oil and the need to make investments in clean energy going forward.”

As the president makes his remarks, the American public supports a comprehensive approach to America’s energy future.  A June Benenson poll found that 63 percent of respondents support a comprehensive clean energy bill “that will limit pollution, invest in domestic energy sources and encourage companies to use and develop clean energy.”  Similar support was found in recent polling performed by Yale and George Mason Universities, finding that 87% support funding more research into renewable energy sources and  77% support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.   As President Obama warned in early June, “If we refuse to take into account the full cost of our fossil fuel addiction – if we don’t factor in the environmental costs and national security costs and true economic costs – we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future.” [CAP, 6/14/10. Benenson poll via Politico, 6/2010. President Obama, via the Washington Post, 6/3/10. Andrew Revkin, NY Times, 6/14/10]

Innovation, competiveness and national security all demand that the U.S. invest in a clean-energy future. Business and national security leaders alike are speaking out:  investments in securing clean energy and combating climate change would make America a more secure and prosperous nation. A broad consensus is visible everywhere except Capitol Hill:  to unlock the private sector’s potential, action needs to be comprehensive, including steps related to both energy and climate change – and government must “prime the pump” for the private sector, as it did to spark the computing and high-tech industry booms.

  • Prime the pump:” Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Xerox’s Ursula Burns are among the CEOs who have helped form the American Energy Innovation Council to encourage government to take the steps necessary to spur innovation in clean energy. Gates told NPR on Sunday, “the government investment unlocks a huge amount of private sector activity…the government has to prime the pump here. The basic ideas, as in those other industries, start with government investment.”
  • If we fail, “fewer American success stories:” GE CEO Jeff Immelt and venture capitalist John Doerr stated in blunt terms the risk if we fail to impose a price on carbon: “No long-term signal means no serious innovation at scale, which means fewer American success stories.”
  • Business, labor and environmental groups standing together: The U.S. Climate Action Partnership coalition – which includes Duke Energy Corp., Dow Chemical Co., Chrysler LLC, Entergy Corp., Rio Tinto PLC, Starbucks Corp., Honeywell International Inc., Google Inc., Levi Strauss & Co., Cisco Systems Inc., Dell Inc., the Blue Green Alliance and the Environmental Defense Fund – to reinvigorate U.S. efforts to combat climate change and secure alternative sources of energy.
  • “Wellspring for our power:” The Obama administration’s National Security Strategy states: “We must transform the way that we use energy-diversifying supplies, investing in innovation, and deploying clean energy technologies. By doing so, we will enhance energy security, create jobs, and fight climate change.” And as the NSS states, “Our prosperity serves as a wellspring for our power.”

[Bill Gates, via NPR, 6/13/10. E&E, 6/14/10. Jeff Immelt and John Doerr via Third Way, May 2010. National Security Strategy, May 2010]

Political posturing doesn’t plug the oil spill or solve America’s energy problems.  While there is plenty of blame being thrown around regarding the Gulf Coast tragedy, there is also a recognition that America needs a better energy strategy.  However, a number of conservatives’ search for political gains is leaving them out of step with the public search for answers.  Senator McConnell’s pre-buttal to tonight’s Oval Office address falls back on tired old “anti-government” rhetoric: “until this leak is plugged, they’re not in any mood to hand over even more power to a government that, so far, hasn’t lived up to their expectations in response to the spill.”  Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) flip-flopped from strong support for pricing carbon in January –  “The idea of not pricing carbon, in my view, means you’re not serious about energy independence” – to, as the Hill reported last week, “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday threw his support behind a new energy bill sponsored by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) even though it lacks mechanisms to create a cost for emitting greenhouse gases that Graham has called fundamental in the past.”  Joe Romm, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, described it as “one of the fastest wholesale flip-flops in Senate history.” Similarly, Senate candidate Carly Fiorina (R-CA) mocks Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) for agreeing with countless retired generals and admirals, the CIA, the Department of Defense, the National Intelligence Council, and bipartisan national security experts that climate change is in fact a national security issue. [Mitch McConnell via Politico, 6/15/10. Lindsey Graham via the Hill, 6/9/10. Lindsey Graham via Climate Progress, 1/31/10. The Hill, 6/9/10. Joe Romm, Climate Progress, 6/9/10. Carly Fiorina, 6/2/10]

What We’re Reading

As four days of ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan threatens to build into a major refugee crisis, both sides of the conflict are calling on Russia to step in, saying third-party peacekeepers are needed to defuse standoffs between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz.

With pressure building on Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip, Egypt finds itself in the uncomfortable position of continuing to help enforce the siege while watching Turkey outflank the region’s traditional Sunni Arab heavyweights in championing the Palestinian cause.

Officials, diplomats and politicians worry that Iraqi citizens’ frustration with governing elites may become a bigger threat to the fledgling political process than sectarian strife or a diminished but resilient insurgency.

The first salvoes appear to have been fired in a campaign to intimidate Kenyans from voting on a new constitution: Two explosions at a church rally killed six people and injured more than 100.

Three high-ranking Colombian police officers and an Army sergeant were reunited with their families after they were rescued from a jungle camp where they had been held by leftist rebels for nearly 12 years.

Landslides triggered by heavy rain in southeast Bangladesh buried dozens of houses and an army camp, killing at least 58 people.

The Obama administration has decided to object to a lucrative deal in which state-owned Chinese companies would supply Pakistan with two nuclear reactors.

The European Union is likely to agree on tough new sanctions against Iran that cover further investment in the country’s oil and gas industry as well as its financial sector.

An American armed with a pistol and a 40-inch sword was detained in northern Pakistan, telling investigators he was on a solo mission to kill Osama bin Laden.

Faced with a surge in drug-related killings in recent days, Mexican President Felipe Calderón offered a spirited defense of his government’s antidrug offensive.

Commentary of the Day

James Collins and Matthew Rojansky write that, to successfully manage the conflict in Kyrgyzstan, the US and Russia must put aside outdated stereotypes and focus on their fundamental shared interests in Eurasian security.

James K. Galbraith argues that the “national security” case for cutting Social Security and Medicare is bogus.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett say wishful thinking and bad analysis has inflated Iran’s Green Movement into something it is not: a viable alternative to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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