Leadership in the gulf?

This week we passed the one-month anniversary of the gulf spill. As gallons upon gallons of oil disgorges into gulf waters, killing dolphins, destroying communities and their local economies, we’re now experiencing the collective grief and dread that comes with the realization that we should have known.

Lax regulation, dangerous mistakes and poor leadership got us here, so how are we going to get out? In a recent post, NY Times author and Planet Forward guest, Thomas Friedman, calls for leadership from Obama in this time of crisis.

Please don’t tell us that our role is just to hate BP or shop in Mississippi or wait for a commission to investigate. We know the problem, and Americans are ready to be enlisted for a solution. Of course we can’t eliminate oil exploration or dependence overnight, but can we finally start? Mr. President, your advisers are wrong: Americans are craving your leadership on this issue. Are you going to channel their good will into something that strengthens our country — “The Obama End to Oil Addiction Act” — or are you going squander your 9/11, too?
--"Obama and the Oil Spill", NYTimes

But can Obama really lead the way on this and how should he do it? In a belated attempt to control the damage the dispersants are making on the gulf, the EPA announced today that they were going to force BP to stop using Corexit, a chemical that has been banned in the UK for 10 years. (If it’s ok to use this stuff in the gulf, imagine the kind of toxic sludge they must be using in countries where there are even less environmental protections?)

This action is a good one, but like everything else that has happened in this disaster, it’s a bit too late, and shocking that they didn’t get around to doing this earlier.

Many groups are using this spill to galvanize the grassroots around a climate bill. This position is espoused in a post by NRDC’s James Boyce:

I think we all need to take a moment and realize what the spill really means - the devastation in the Gulf is a reflection of our collective failure to force Washington and our elected officials to act on clean energy and propel our country, and our economy, powerfully forward. We have, collectively, allowed Washington to stall and wait and literally do nothing for three decades…Today, we must stand up.

For NRDC, that means supporting a “firm limit on global warming pollution.” Note that NRDC isn’t explicitly calling for support of the Kerry-Lieberman bill, aka “American Power Act,” but that’s what’s on the table in the Senate right now. Obama’s reaction to the bill has been tepid. In a statement, he “applauds” Kerry and Lieberman for their work on the bill, but he has yet to make any kind of major move to support it. The bill itself has been criticized as a “nuke jobs” bill by some.

Recognizing there are no perfect answers, what do you think? Should we be using this disaster to push through clean energy legislation or should we wait until Obama makes his move (if he ever does)?
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