Big oil is making America fall behind

Is it a coincidence that Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski (R)—who has received more than $124,500 from oil companies—is spearheading an amendment to stop the Clean Air Act from regulating greenhouse gas emissions? Or how about the relationship between a Congress that can’t seem to pass climate legislation and the $90 million that was spent lobbying on climate issues in 2008? With companies like Exxon Mobile making recent profits of $45 billion and using it on Capitol Hill, it is no wonder that America is falling behind the rest of the world in the race for renewable energy.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases endanger public health and therefore could be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act. Although a bill instituting a cap and trade system to regulate ghg emissions narrowly passed the House this summer, climate legislation has stalled in the Senate, prompting the Obama administration to call upon the Environmental Protection Agency to begin regulation.

In response, Senator Murkowski and her lobbyist friends drafted an amendment known among environmentalists as the “Dirty Air Act.” While widespread citizen outrage—including from Whitman’s Campus Climate Challenge, who called the Senate all last week—has thus prevented Murkowski from introducing the amendment, she is expected to try again later this month.

Last Wednesday, Murkowski publicly accused Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson of conflicting statements regarding greenhouse gas policy due to Jackson’s stance that agency regulation can complement comprehensive energy legislation.

Murkowski told Jackson, “I don’t know that I’m any more clear based on your statement this morning as to whether or not you think it should be the Congress and those of us that are elected by our constituents and accountable to them to enact and advance climate policy.”

Murkowski’s comment is laughable for a few reasons. First, it implies that Congress is actually on track to enacting climate policy when even top Democrats have said that it is unlikely to pass in 2010 due to the negative push-back expected in the midterm elections. Secondly, her comment implies that members of Congress are actually accountable to their constituents as opposed to the coffers of the energy and pharmaceutical companies.

The inability of politicians to take action on climate change doesn’t only have dire implications for the planet. It is also affecting our ability to get ourselves out of the current recession and compete in the global market.

Over these past couple of years, while the general economy has tanked, the green economy has greatly increased. Pew Charitable Trust reports that the clean energy economy grew by 9.1 percent between 1998 and 2007, compared to growth of just 3.7 percent in traditional jobs. The Obama administration has estimated that occupations in clean energy and sustainability will grow by 52 percent between 2000 and 2016. With other careers only expected to see a workforce increase of 14 percent in the same time period, the green sector is becoming increasingly attractive.

If the clean energy economy can provide 38 percent more jobs than any other industry even without congressional support, imagine the impact that climate legislation could make. You don’t have to fantasize too much; simply look at what other countries are already doing.

recent study by the Center for American Progress clearly showed that the United States must make long-term investments in clean energy or  risk being shut out of a $2.3 trillion industry. The report hails Germany, Spain and China as “early winners in the next great technological and industrial revolution.”

Although many Americans might think of China as a carbon-intensive country, China has more renewable energy capacity than any other country in the world. It currently produces 16 percent of its electricity from hydro and wind power. America produces a mere 7.3 percent of our electricity from renewable sources.

Feeling pissed off yet? I dare you to call your senator.