Obama Finally Uses Oil Spill to Push for Climate Action; Greens Cheer

June 03, 2010 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

Speaking at Carnegie Mellon University yesterday, President Obama did what environmental advocates have been urging him to do for weeks now: He turned public anger at the BP oil spill to his advantage, using it to push for comprehensive climate legislation.

“We have to acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth, and these are risks — (applause) — these are risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes,” he said, according to the White House transcript. “We also have to acknowledge that an America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and our grandchildren.”

“Without a major change in our energy policy, our dependence on oil means that we will continue to send billions of dollars of our hard-earned wealth to other countries every month — including countries in dangerous and unstable regions,” he continued. “In other words, our continued dependence on fossil fuels will jeopardize our national security. It will smother our planet. And it will continue to put our economy and our environment at risk.”

As Dave Roberts points out, Obama avoids using the terms “climate change” and “global warming” these days. “Smother our planet” is about as close as he’ll come.

Shortly thereafter, Obama explicitly pushed to end the era of free carbon pollution. “The only way the transition to clean energy will ultimately succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future — if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed,” he said. “And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.”

And the big applause line: “I will work with anyone to get this done — and we will get it done.”

And applaud they did. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who’s led the charge in the Senate to craft and pass comprehensive climate legislation, tweeted yesterday, “Legislator in Chief! Pres Obama pledges ‘to find the votes’ for comprehensive climate/energy – we can pass this.” A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told The Washington Post that Obama’s remarks were “extremely helpful” and that “he’s turning up the volume.” And in Grist, Roberts cheered, “He delivered a *hell *of a speech today,” adding, “He finally seems to be waking up to the historical opportunity that has, um, spilled into his lap.”

Update: On cue, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is signaling that he wants to move on the Senate climate bill in July.