It's Not Too Late to Save the Senate's Greatest Missed Opportunity


Image credit: The Sierra Club/Flickr
This guest post was contributed by Robert Redford.

A small minority of Senators robbed America of a cleaner, more prosperous future last week. In the middle of the biggest oil disaster in American history, the hottest summer on record, and a war with an oil-rich nation, this group of cynics blocked efforts to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation. This was the moment brimming with potential for new jobs, a more robust economy and cleaner environment—this bill would have guided America down a profoundly safer and more productive path.So therefore, the Senate is left to vote on an anemic energy bill of such remarkably limited scope that it could have been passed during the Bush era.

The elected officials who steered this turnaround have abdicated their responsibility to uphold our nation's best interests, and have shown us, and the world, an America woefully deficient in both leadership and ingenuity.

This was our moment to create two million clean energy jobs here in the United States. This was our moment to outpace China in the clean energy market that will dominate the 21st century. This was our time to slash our oil imports in half. This was our time to confront the perils of climate change, which despite head-in-the sand-denial, is in fact happening.

The American people wanted a home run, not a bunt. A recent CNN poll found that nearly 80 percent of voters believe that reducing oil use and shifting to cleaner energy would make life better for Americans, while a Wall Street Journal poll in June found that an overwhelming majority of people specifically support passing legislation to limit global warming pollution.

Yet a handful of politicians decided they didn't want to represent the will of the people. Given the chance to invest in American jobs and reduce dangerous pollution, they chose instead, to focus on their own interest and self-preservation.

The Republican Senate leadership has fought against every clean energy and climate measure simply because their political opponents were for it. This was the most shameful partisanship I have seen in my lifetime. We all know who really loses when GOP leaders block progress: American citizens. The economic recession and climate change don't care which party you are in&mdsh;they will make life harder for everyone until we put the right solutions in place.

But the GOP wasn't the only force acting on its own behalf. A handful of moderate Democrats were so worried about being tarred by the Tea Party or losing reelection campaigns that they failed to show their support for clean energy and climate legislation—even those who are on record saying that we must fight global warming. When elected officials act as bystanders to a crisis, they reveal their deep cowardice.

We can't forget that Big Oil and Big Coal reached deep into their pockets to inspire politicians to block climate action. Their undue influence in our nation's politics has once again placed the desires of polluters above the interests of all Americans.

Stronger leadership from the White House could have helped burst through political obstructions. President Obama has certainly done more than any other president to advance clean energy, yet he never seemed to roll up his sleeves, bring lawmakers to the table, and work to rally the American public behind it. If he thought his move earlier this year to approve new offshore oil drilling for the first time in decades would pay off last week in the form of GOP support for this bill, I guess he got his answer.

This is one of the many times when average citizens may be ahead of our leaders. All of us who want to generate jobs, reduce hazardous pollution, and strengthen our nation's security need to make our voices heard. We should praise those senators who represented our best interests and hold accountable those who looked out only for their own.

I remember the last time our nation came this close to embracing clean energy—back in the late 1970s. I hope my children don't have to wait another 35 years to seize the moment once again, because that moment, that opportunity might not be there.

Robert Redford is an actor, director, and environmental activist. He is also a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Read more about climate legislation:
Big Corporations Lobby President, Congress For Climate Legislation
The 7 Things That Killed the Climate Bill
GOP Willfully Distorts Research on Climate Legislation

Tags: Congress | Global Climate Change

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