Energy Action Coalition Co-Director Courtney Hight responds to President Obama’s weekend off-shore drilling announcement, cross-posted from WeArePowerShift.org
Gas prices are at an all-time high; Big Oil is receiving massive taxbreaks on top of record profits, while middle America struggles to get by; and the Gulf Coast is still suffering from the BP drilling disaster. So what to do?
President Obama’s most recent response? Promote Big Oil’s false solutions, despite overwhelming support for standing up to Big Oil, reigning them in, and making them pay their fair share.
The President is faced with some tough choices; I heard them from him first-hand in a meeting one month ago. As 10,000 people descended on Washington, DC for Power Shift 2011, eleven young grassroots leaders and I were invited to the Roosevelt Room to meet with senior White House officials.
When we showed up at the White House we didn’t expect the President to be in the meeting, but when he walked in holding a copy of that day’s Washington Post story about the 10,000 young people arriving at Power Shift 2011 (“Youth at environment summit unhappy with Obama policies”), we knew we had an opportunity.
We sat down face-to-face with President Obama for a full half-hour, debating our nation’s energy future, and ultimately laying down the conclusion we need an 100% clean energy economy, and drawing our line in the sand: “If it’s not clean energy, don’t call it that.”
In the month since meeting with the President at Power Shift 2011, we’ve seen the President speak forcefully and repeatedly about the need to eliminate handouts for Big Oil and shift those subsidies to clean energy investments.
However, as we told President Obama in that meeting, our generation will not be satisfied by rhetoric, to win over young people we need to see action. This weekend was a perfect example of the President’s contradictory dance with Big Oil that is frustrating his base.
On Friday night I was excited to receive an email from Obama Campaign Director Jim Messina talking about the need to stand up to Big Oil and build a movement to change the way Washington works.
So when I woke up Saturday morning and heard the announcement that under pressure to relieve gas prices President Obama is expanding and speeding up dangerous offshore drilling — despite his own acknowledgement that it won’t do a thing to bring down gas prices — I was infuriated.
Just as it feels like we’re building a movement to stand up to Big Oil in Washington, DC to end billions in tax-breaks and handouts, President Obama decided to play politics as usual. Just as we’re about to have votes in Congress that will expose those standing with Big Oil vs. whose standing with the American public, President Obama hands away a bargaining chip that shouldn’t be on the table to begin with.
Now let’s be clear, the environment in Washington is ugly.
Big Oil’s cronies like Majority Leader John Boehner have been working nonstop to force through a Big Polluter agenda, funded by dirty corporations like the big oil baron Koch Brothers, seeking to undermine critical public health safeguards like the Clean Air Act. Now they are desperately spreading lies about the cause of high gas prices in an effort to maintain the $4 billion in handouts that line their piggy banks.
The correct response isn’t to try to assuage the public’s concerns with ineffective measures that continue to threaten the health of the Gulf, the American public and the planet — the correct response is to continue to stand up to Big Oil, speak the truth and advance policy that can really address the American people’s needs and concerns.
Thousands of Americans, including the 10,000 young people at Power Shift 2011, are calling for this, only to be overshadowed by the special interest agenda.
If President Obama is unsure about what real action for clean energy looks like, he should look to the young people who also took action this week, and follow their lead.
This Saturday, graduating seniors at Worcester Polytechnic Institute jeopardized their ability to walk in commencement to stand up against Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson speaking at their graduation. They were tired of his lies being unchallenged, so they arranged for an alternative commencement speaker who would bring some truth and integrity to the ceremonies.
And, as the HuffingtonPost reported on Friday, when charges were dropped against 21 young people who staged a sit-in at the Department of Interior, they didn’t celebrate, they started planning their next action.
Young people remain determined and ready to confront the Big Polluters and their cronies and we will continue as long as the atrocious practices and policies that threaten the health of people, communities and the planet persist.
We wont give up on ending Big Oil handouts. This week the Senate is expected to vote on a proposal to end them, and young people will be there to voice our demands. On Tuesday, we’re delivering the voices of thousands of people who have called for an end to Big Oil handouts. We’ll be there on the steps of the Capitol calling for it today, and we’ll be out there organizing for it tomorrow. The question is will the President be with us?