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America Needs an Oil Reform Agenda

Getting Started on a Bold and Direct Plan to Reduce Oil Use

SOURCE: AP/Charlie Riedel

Vessels collect oil near the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on May 17, 2010. Americans are intently focused on the BP disaster and overwhelmingly favor solutions to reduce oil use.

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Read also: Powering an Oil Reform Agenda by Daniel J. Weiss and Susan Lyon

Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Policy Carol Browner observed Sunday that the BP oil disaster is “probably the biggest environmental disaster we’ve ever faced in this country.”  Americans watch helplessly as millions of gallons of oil gush from the ocean floor every day, causing a growing stain that now covers an unconfirmed 9,100 square mile area and is contaminating our shores. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on May 31 extended the fishing ban to one third of the Gulf of Mexico.

Americans are intently focused on the BP disaster and overwhelmingly favor solutions to reduce oil use. A May 20-23 survey by the Pew Research Center found that “Americans stayed focused on the unfolding oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last week, while the effort to cap the underwater well and limit the damage was one of two stories that dominated media coverage.” Nearly half of the respondents named it as the “story as most closely followed,” with the economy next at 15 percent.

Americans understand that this unfolding catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico is but one symptom of our oil dependence and the need for an aggressive transition to cleaner energy. Recent polling by USA Today/Gallup shows that “Americans’ support for increased offshore drilling has declined significantly since April.” A May 4-5 Benenson poll at the same time found that 61 percent of 2010 voters support a comprehensive clean energy bill “that will limit pollution, invest in domestic energy sources and encourage companies to use and develop clean energy.”

The public is hungry for a direct, bold response to the oil disaster—one that clearly reduces American dependence on all oil, regardless of origin. President Barack Obama and Congress should dramatically cut our oil dependence by adopting administrative and legislation measures that increase vehicle efficiency, raise revenue to invest in cleaner alternative fuels and transit, provide additional environmental safeguards for oil and gas production, and enforce real accountability for bad actors.

President Obama has already taken some steps to reduce oil use. The administration recently finalized a one-third improvement in fuel economy for cars and light trucks. This will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of cars built from 2012-2016. The president also signed an executive memorandum on May 21 that directs the Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency to further improve efficiency standards for these vehicles and establishes the first-ever fuel efficiency standards for medium and heavy trucks.

These efforts are an important start, but an oil reform agenda must make additional progress. It could include the following measures, many of which the administration has the authority to adopt or have already been introduced as separate bills in Congress.

  • Eliminate the liability limit for offshore oil disasters—current law caps oil spill liability at $75 million
  • Require BP to put $5 billion—its first quarter 2010 profits—into an escrow fund to ensure prompt payments for clean up and compensation
  • Adopt the recommendations for offshore oil well safety in the Interior Department’s “Increased Safety Measures for Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf” report, including better back-up systems and more complete inspections
  • Implement fuel economy and alternatively fueled vehicle measures that will produce a 7 million barrel per day reduction in oil use by 2030 with interim reductions, and empower the president to implement these measures to reach that goal
  • Significantly reduce oil use from vehicles by establishing 40 mile per gallon fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks by 2020, and establish the first fuel economy standards for trucks
  • Power trucks and buses with natural gas by enacting the NAT GAS Act
  • Power cars with electricity by enacting the Electric Vehicle Deployment Act
  • Eliminate taxpayer subsides that benefit big oil companies
  • Invoke the Trade Expansion Act to levy a fee on imported oil, and use revenue from this fee to invest in public transit, high-speed rail, and infrastructure for electric and natural gas vehicles

The transition to a clean energy economy and reduction in oil use will benefit all Americans. It would save families money, enhance national security, create jobs, and protect public health by making pollution reductions.

The horrible BP oil disaster has reminded Americans that we must reduce our oil use. We share the view that this presents an unprecedented opportunity to take bold action to achieve this goal.

John Podesta is President and CEO and Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow at American Progress.

Read also: Powering an Oil Reform Agenda by Daniel J. Weiss and Susan Lyon

More on the oil spill from CAP:

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