The BP Disaster: Our Generations' Sputnik; Seizing the Moment to Revolutionize Our Energy Policy

Half a century ago, the technological success of a foreign government shocked Americans into action. Today, the technological failure of a foreign corporation can produce the same effect.
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Half a century ago, the technological success of a foreign government shocked Americans into action. Today, the technological failure of a foreign corporation can produce the same effect.

In 1957, the Soviet Union sent a satellite into orbit around the Earth. In 2010, British Petroleum sent an oil slick through the waters of the Gulf.

This spill should be our Sputnik. We need what Congressman Jay Inslee and others have called a new Apollo program for energy independence. As Tom Friedman has written, this is our generation's "moon shot."

The Soviet Union's arrival in space galvanized our government, our economy and our society. Within a year, Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Defense Education Act.

The Soviets' success sparked a revolution in American education, research and development and steered millions of Americans toward careers in science, engineering and mathematics. Sputnik stirred not only our fears but also our imagination.

The spill in the Gulf should do the same.

The explosion on Deepwater Horizon will likely rank as the worst economic and ecological catastrophe in American history. We have focused most of our attention on cleaning up the spill and holding British Petroleum responsible. That is appropriate. The coastal communities stand to lose thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue. We should do everything we can to help our neighbors recover from this nightmare - and to reduce the risk that a disaster like this ever happens again.

To that end, we should also seize the moment to revolutionize our energy policy. Today, I am proposing that we set a national renewable energy standard.

The United States should take a lesson from Colorado. In 2004, our state became the first state in the nation to adopt a renewable energy standard by voter initiative. The people of Colorado demanded that we get 10 percent of our electricity from solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and other renewable sources by the year 2015.

We met that goal ahead of schedule - and, on my watch, we doubled it. This year, the legislature and the governor raised the standard again, setting a target of 30 percent by 2020.

That should be our national goal - to get 30 percent of our electricity from renewable sources over the next decade. We can do even better over the next two decades. I propose a national renewable standard of 50 percent by 2030.

Boosting our use of renewable energy will pay enormous dividends for our public health, our environment, our economy and our national security. We can speed the day when we no longer have to spoil our oceans or foul our skies or spill our blood just to power our planet.

To reach that day, we'll need to harness the best efforts of the public and private sectors. Here's how:

•Accelerate the research, development and use of renewable energy technology, including promising new areas such as synthetic cells and algae-based fuels.

•Enhance the national power grid to transmit and distribute energy more efficiently.

•Minimize energy use and maximize energy efficiency.
oSet a national goal of zero net energy use in all federal facilities.
oProvide incentives to reduce energy use in the construction and operation of appliances, homes and office buildings.

•Provide financial credits, as Colorado's net-metering law has done, for those who produce their own energy.

•Improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles and expand the production and use of high-speed rail and other forms of mass transit.

Cutting carbon emissions should be a priority not only for the American government but also for American citizens. Here in Colorado, thousands of homeowners and businesses are already leading by example. In this field, as in so many others, we can and will lead the world.

Four years after the Soviets launched Sputnik, John F. Kennedy announced plans to put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth. That dream inspired millions of American students - including those the President addressed at Rice University in 1962. "We set sail on this new sea," President Kennedy said, "because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people."

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."

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