BP, Obama and Energy Policy: Implications of the BP Oil Spill
On Tuesday, June 15, 2010, President Obama addressed the nation to assure the American people that he was doing everything in his power to deal with the current and future consequences of the BP oil spill. In the address, he asked BP to pay lost wages and damages for those affected and announced a revitalization effort for the Gulf Coast. In the tenth minute of the 16-minute address, President Obama pegged oil addiction as the root cause of the BP incident and called on the nation to transition to clean energy and rally together to end this oil addiction.
This same sentiment has been repeated since the 1973 oil crisis, but, again, no real solution was offered. There was mention of the climate change and cap-and-trade bill that was passed in the House of Representatives, called the Waxman-Markey Bill, but there was no explicit call for support in the Senate or for support of some other actual plan. The same rhetoric we have always heard from this president about banding together to overcome obstacles pervaded the speech, but there was no plan put forth around which Americans are supposed to unite. The speech was therefore a complete failure on energy policy grounds and only a modest success in easing the public’s worries about the spill.
The issue of energy addiction will continue to pop up throughout the political cycle, but it seems that it will not be truly addressed until some tremendous crisis emerges, such as if gasoline hits $10 per gallon or if the petro-dollars of a hostile state were to directly enable nuclear weapons proliferation. As it currently stands, the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill is not likely to pass in the Senate. At most, it appears that regulations on offshore drilling will be increased, but no comprehensive legislation proposal exists right now to fundamentally break our oil addiction.
One thing that is fairly certain is that the future of offshore drilling in the United States looks bleak. The proposed lift on the 1981 drilling ban that the Obama administration initially supported will almost certainly be dropped from the president’s to-do list. This will not help America escape its dependency on oil-exporting countries.
Some have criticized the president for using the BP incident to further the liberal political agenda, but there simply was no clear policy agenda that was being pushed in that speech. It takes a gargantuan amount of political pressure and effort to pass an energy bill, and the Obama administration has failed so far to capitalize on popular support. However, the left has been using the recent images of oil-covered wildlife and beaches to try to refresh popular support for the principles of its own environmental agenda.
With this in mind, conservatives should take the opportunity to develop their own energy independence bill. The pictures of oil-covered birds can also act as a catalyst for popular support for conservative-led energy reform that will not tax the middle class and penalize private industry as the existing legislation proposes. There is a popular myth that the road to energy independence necessarily means tax hikes and big government, but there are solutions beyond carbon taxes to pursue instead.
Conservatives need to support natural gas solutions or innovation-based research projects that are aimed at sustainable solutions to crude oil addiction. If they do not present their own solution, they only have the option to fight the increased taxes that those on the left generally advocate. Conservatives need to behave proactively on this issue and change their reputation for merely obstructing progress toward energy independence.
If actions are not taken now, it is probable that there will be no legislative action until something worse happens economically, geopolitically or environmentally. The left knows this, and they are working to take action now. It is time for conservatives to create a comprehensive energy plan, consistent with American values and long-term security and economic priorities, which President Obama has so far failed to deliver.
Submitted by PAI’s Energy Security Fellow.