Mary L. Halling,

We’ve all heard the saying, “things get worse before they get better.” If there was ever a situation to exemplify this adage, our current energy crisis would be the one. The past 12 months have been the warmest on record, according to NASA. Also, the United States has the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the world. Now, we are confronted with the recent explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico, and the oil spill currently devastating the region. This newest crisis should be as bad as we let it get – it’s time for things to get better now, time for an end to fossil fuel dependency.

BP has said that we will see a natural turning point in the Gulf catastrophe in August, as this is when the majority of the oil should be collected. August is also when Congress will recess, and actions need to be taken before then. Events in the Interior Department’s Mineral Management Service (MMS) seem to have set the ball rolling with the resignation of assistant director Chris Oynes in May. Oynes was the U.S. official in charge of keeping offshore drilling rigs safe. I say this is a step in the right direction – the relationship between MMS and the energy industry is far too cozy. In 2007, MMS authorized special leases to energy producers in the Gulf, which exempted them from paying billions of dollars in royalties to the federal government. Darrell Issa (R-California) agreed that MMS is in need of “extensive overhaul and comprehensive reform.”

Additionally, a comprehensive energy bill has already passed in the House. The bill details a cap-and-trade system in which companies in polluting industries can obtain and trade credits for emissions. A price would also be set for greenhouse gas emissions. The cap-and-trade argument is based largely on George H. W. Bush’s Clean Air Act signed in 1990. This law forced coal plants to buy permits if they were going to emit sulfur dioxide, the gas that causes acid rain.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee have also already approved a measure. Unfortunately this measure is what authorized more offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. It is evident that we need a much more stringent policy, preferably one that moves away from drilling altogether.

Economic impacts are not to be ignored, however. Jobs in the Gulf region are especially in jeopardy as we move toward a future without such a dependency on fossil fuels. In addition to the fishing and tourism industries taking a hit from the oil spill, oil rig workers are experiencing tough times due to Obama’s temporary drill ban. If rigs move elsewhere – and some are already looking to do so – these workers would be left high and dry. Some analysts predict that up to 500,000 jobs could be lost if the ban continues into 2011.

Senators from energy producing states are especially wary. “While our environment is important, it is also the place where we make our living…and there are many jobs at stake along the Gulf coast,” says Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, who supports a tax on carbon emissions. Furthermore, due to our market economy structure, a permit or cap-and-trade system would come with a price.  In weak economic times and an election year, this is hard for politicians to tell voters. Getting the sixty senatorial votes needed for reform will be tough, and surely will not come without some compromise. President Barack Obama has called for a bipartisan approach, and he plans to meet with representatives from both parties on July 23 to discuss possible legislation ideas. 

Jobs may be lost in the Gulf in the short-term, but with another spill the environment could be permanently destroyed. It is essential to note the long-term benefits of moving away from fossil fuel dependency. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) described our nation’s current condition in the best terms possible: “The less we depend on oil, the less chance there is of another environmental disaster like this.”