Washington (AFP) June 15, 2010
US President Barack Obama issued a rallying cry Tuesday for Americans to use the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to embark on a "national mission" to develop clean energy.
"The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now," Obama said in a primetime speech broadcast from the Oval Office.
"Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny."
The remarks signaled a political effort by Obama to use the disastrous impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster to drive a stalled climate change bill through Congress.
The House of Representatives has already passed a bill, but prospects for the legislation in the Senate remain uncertain following the collapse of a bipartisan effort to pilot it through the chamber in the runup to crucial mid-term elections in November.
Obama said Americans had been aware for decades that the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered but had failed to act to end their century-long addiction to fossil fuels.
"Time and again, the path forward has been blocked, not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor," he said.
"We consume more than 20 percent of the world's oil, but have less than two percent of the world's oil reserves. And that's part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean, because we're running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water."
Some experts question whether the year-long battle to enact health care reform drained the kind of political capital Obama will need to get the bill through the Senate in a highly polarized political environment.
"President Obama should not exploit this crisis to impose a job-killing national energy tax on struggling families and small businesses," the Republican leader in the House, John Boehner, said before the president spoke.
"Both parties should be working together to craft responsible solutions in response to this disaster. There's nothing responsible or reasonable about a national energy tax that will raise energy costs and destroy more American jobs."
But Obama said the consequences of US inaction were starkly clear as countries like China leap ahead in investment in clean energy jobs that could be up for grabs for Americans.
As a wary America struggles to recover from recession faced with a sky-high unemployment rate of 9.7 percent, the president suggested a clean energy revolution made economic sense as well.
"As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of good, middle-class jobs, but only if we accelerate that transition," he said.
"Only if we seize the moment. And only if we rally together and act as one nation: workers and entrepreneurs; scientists and citizens; the public and private sectors."
Obama dismissed critics who said the cost of change shouldn't be met right now in a time of lingering economic uncertainty.
"I say we can't afford not to change how we produce and use energy, because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater."
Current bills before Congress essentially put a price on carbon in an effort to discourage global warming emissions and seek to develop alternative energy sources to wean the US off foreign oil from volatile regions of the world.
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