Obviously, our nation’s first priority must be stopping the Deepwater Horizon spill and minimizing its environmental, health, and economic impacts. However, Congress itself can be of little direct help in this important work. While offshore oil drilling safety and risk practices must reviewed, the most effective response that Congress can take is to leverage the political will unleashed by the BP crisis to craft a long-term, sustainable energy policy for America that truly takes us Beyond Petroleum.
Specifically, a comprehensive, sustainable energy policy must be one based both on sound economics and sound science that:
- Enforces hard, significant near-term cuts on global warming pollution with a specific, realistic, and aggressive timetable for a progressively decreasing cap based on the best available, continuously updated science, which currently calls for decreases to 35 percent below current levels by 2020 and at least 80 percent by 2050 to achieve atmospheric carbon dioxide levels of no more than 350 parts per million;
- Ensures that all forms of global warming pollution are covered, with no sectors or industries exempted and no loopholes, such as unlimited “offsets” allowing polluters to postpone emissions cuts or “safety valves” limiting the fees polluters must pay for their emissions;
- Sets greenhouse pollution allowance quantities low enough & trading prices (&/or “carbon” tax rates) high enough to avoid the mistakes of the EU cap & trade system & force real market competition for nonpolluting energy sources;
- Provides an offset mechanism or other revenue stream that promotes sustainable practices and carbon offset projects in developing nations so that global greenhouse gas pollution reductions may be made while directing economic development in impoverished nations in toward sustainable economic growth, targeting equatorial countries in particular to prevent tropical deforestation, which accounts for 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions;
- Forces all technologies to compete on their merits in the open marketplace, without “picking winners” in advance through subsidies, tax credits, or other government favoritism, in particular to nuclear power, which presents its own set of environmental, health, safety, and national security issues;
- Phases-out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, which artificially increases production of these polluting energy sources;
- Phases out subsidies & sets environmentally sound sourcing standards for biofuels ensuring these interim energy sources actually reduce global warming pollution, do so at an efficient cost, and come from waste biomass or biomass cultivated on non-arable land so that they produce energy without threatening world food supplies;
- Lessens the short-term economic pain of higher energy prices to U.S. consumers by applying credits against or reductions to personal income taxes or otherwise providing consumers with financial offsets or dividends;
- Invests any revenue generated from polluters in transition/training programs for fossil fuel energy industry workers displaced by the disruption, as well as in energy efficiency incentives, fundamental clean energy research, and additional protections for consumers;
As repeated reviews of scientific studies by the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have made clear, we must take action now to curb greenhouse gas pollution in order to head off major climatic change and its potentially devastating consequences. The longer we delay taking remedial action, the greater the climatic change, the more pronounced its impacts, the more dramatically we will have to cut emissions in future years to achieve the same results, the higher costs to do so and the higher the costs to recover from the consequences of storm damage, flooding, crop failures, water shortages, and forced migration, and resultant human suffering and political turmoil that may result from significant climate change. These long-term environmental and economic impacts of climate change will dwarf those of the current tragedy in the Gulf. I urge you to respond to the Deepwater Horizon spill with comprehensive climate and clean energy policy that sharply limits greenhouse gas pollution, thereby reducing the likelihood of future oil spills as well as mitigating the worst effects of climate change by moving our nation Beyond Petroleum.