Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Congress passed a $1 a gallon tax rebate for biodiesel produced for petroleum blends in 2004 and has been slow to renew the rebate under Obama and a friendly Democratic congress. Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone just did a number on Obama's perpetuation of oil deregulation.

With the political will, petroleum can be phased out as the fuel for automobiles in favor of biodiesel. It's simple:

1. Require gas stations to include a 100% biodiesel pump by a certain year; with a federal commitment to compensation for doing so in the form of paying for the pump, tax credit, etc;
2. Require new automobiles to use 100% biodiesel by a certain year.

That's it! Done. You've just done away with petroleum-burning automobiles at a minor cost based on the magnitude of the change.

Why isn't this happening? Obviously you could point to the enormous power that Big Oil has in Washington, but there's more to that story. Petroleum production is vital to the economy of entire regions of the US, including that of Texas and Louisiana, the areas immediately affected by the BP Oil Spill. The people who make a living fishing or selling vacation properties in those states have less pull than not just the oil business, but all the people who directly or indirectly benefit economically from the oil business.

The candidates in the 2008 election staked out different positions on offshore drilling and the candidate that opposed drilling won. Utilizing Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's only political play, which is to take the opponent's position and demonize the opposition, Obama has reneged on his promise. But what's happened politically since the BP spill is that local economies that have been built using the shoreline for tourism, fishing, and residential enjoyment – Florida and New Jersey – have intensified their opposition to offshore drilling, and Obama has had no option but to accommodate them.

The most expedient thing to do if you're giving a speech from the Oval Office is to say you are in favor of alternative energy but not propose anything concrete that will create any political opposition grounded in shared financial priorities, and, unsurprisingly, that's what Obama did last night. You could say the glass is half full and that he's inspiring a generation to rethink energy, but George W. Bush could have easily given that speech. The science is ready, and we need a president and a congress to expend the political capital to make the changes that will save the planet from this sort of destruction.