With as many as 60,000 barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico every day, top Democrats on Capitol Hill said Tuesday that the oil spill in the gulf demands that Congress pass comprehensive climate change legislation to wean Americans off fossil fuels.
A broad climate change bill passed the House last year, and a bill in the Senate sponsored by John Kerry and Joe Lieberman
, would create a similar cap-and-trade mechanism to put a price on carbon. The cap-and-trade plan would allow utilities to emit a limited amount of carbon every year. If a utility exceeded the cap, it would have to pay for each cubic ton of carbon above the limit.
Although the Senate effort on the legislation has been stalled for more than a year, Democrats believe that the oil spill can end the stalemate.
Hours before the president's Oval Office speech to the nation, he reached out to supporters through e-mail on the climate change issue. "Our continued dependence on fossil fuels will jeopardize our national security," he wrote. "It will smother our planet. And it will continue to put our economy and our environment at risk. We cannot delay any longer. Please stand with me today in backing clean energy."
But in his address to the nation, President Barack Obama disappointed environmental advocates by stopping short of calling for Congress to pass a specific climate change bill.
Earlier in the day, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)
chaired the House hearing featuring five top oil company executives, and was one of several Democrats in the hearing to say that the events of the last two months demand a series of legislative remedies, especially a bill to move America to what Markey called "a safer, clean energy future so that we don't have to rely as much on oil to power our cars and our economy."
Later, Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office distributed a poll from the Pew Research Center, which her staff said proves the time for climate change legislation is now. The poll shows
that 87 percent of Americans support requiring utilities to produce more energy from renewable sources and 78 percent support comprehensive energy legislation that includes tougher efficiency standards.
"The Gulf Coast catastrophe underscores the need for comprehensive energy and climate reform to rein in Big Oil and reduce our reliance on dirty and foreign fuels," her staff wrote in a memo.
Her staff did not include the fact that the same poll had 68 percent of Americans supporting new exploration for coal, gas and oil.
While Democrats pressed the need for climate change legislation, Republicans complained they were taking advantage of the crisis to push their own agenda.
"Americans want us to stop the oil spill first," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor. "And until this leak is plugged, they're not in any mood to hand over even more power in the form of a new national energy tax to a government that, so far, hasn't lived up to their expectations in its response to this crisis."
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) echoed that sentiment in the House hearing. "Instead of taking time to talk about cap and tax or cap and trade, let's figure out how to cap the well," Upton said.
While Republicans roundly rejected Democrats' calls for a new energy policy, the case for reform found support in an unexpected corner -- the oil company chief executives whom Markey had called in for the hearing.
CEO of BP America, Lamar McKay, said his company supports several provisions in the Kerry-Lieberman bill. "We favor an economy-wide price for carbon based on fair and equitable application across all sectors," McKay said. "Market-based solutions like a cap-and-trade or linked fee are the best solutions to manage greenhouse gas emissions."
Shell Oil chief Marvin Odum agreed. "Shell supports legislating a solution to energy and climate issues as a means to create and secure a U.S. energy future, to reduce dependence on imported oil, and to decrease greenhouse gas emissions," Odum testified. "This requires setting a price for carbon."