Obama cites BP Gulf spill as reason to pass climate change bill

16 June 2010 02:26  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The US must accelerate its transition to a clean energy environment, President Barack Obama said on Tuesday, saying that the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico shows how oil dependence is menacing the nation’s economy.

In a televised address from the Oval Office, Obama said the Gulf spill illustrates why the US cannot delay a move away from carbon-based energy resources.

“The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight,” the president said, referring to the Gulf spill.

“As we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude,” he said.

“For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels,” he said, “And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires.”

“Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny,” he said. “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 cited a climate change bill narrowly approved by the US House of Representatives late last year, a measure that would impose a cap on US emissions of greenhouse gases and force annual reductions that would raise the cost and thereby reduce the use of carbon-based energy.

He said the House-approved measure is “a bill that finally makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America’s businesses”.

“Now, there are costs associated with this transition,” he said. “And some believe we can’t afford those costs right now.”  Opponents of the so-called cap-and-trade emissions reductions plans, like that passed by the House, say it would raise US energy costs sharply.

“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,” he said.

He said that various proposals to wean the US economy from carbon-based energy deserve a fair hearing in the US Senate in the months ahead. A new Senate climate bill that also would cap US emissions of greenhouse gases is under discussion but is not thought to have sufficient backing among either Republican or Democrat senators.

“The one approach I will not accept is inaction,” Obama said.

However, he did not specifically call for legislation that would put a price on carbon, such as a cap-and-trade mandate. This suggests that Obama thinks that such an approach would not be successful in the months ahead as the country heads into national elections in November while unemployment remains high and the economy is still struggling to recover.

The president also said that improvements are being made in BP’s efforts to reduce the flow of oil from the ruptured wellhead a mile beneath the Gulf surface, saying that up to 90% of the leaking oil should be captured within weeks or even days.

A final shutdown of the leaking well is not expected, he said, until relief wells now being drilled will be completed by August.

He emphasised that “we will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused” and that in his meeting on Wednesday with top BP officials he will demand that the energy giant set aside sufficient cash resources in a special fund to compensate workers and business owners along the Gulf coast that have been damaged.

Obama said the fund will be administered by a third party, but he did not identify who or what that entity would be or how much money BP must put in the fund. Earlier reports indicated that the White House and congressional leaders were seeking $20bn (€16.4bn) of BP cash for the compensation fund.

The president also said he will maintain the six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in US waters of the Gulf of Mexico, even though the drilling ban puts offshore workers on unemployment rolls.

“I know this creates difficulty for the people who work on these rigs, but for the sake of their safety, and for the sake of the entire region, we need to know the facts before we allow deepwater drilling to continue,” he said.

($1 = €0.82)

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