Editor's note: The following editorial appeared Wednesday in the Dallas Morning News.
America's fearful reaction to the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 put building nuclear plants on a hiatus that has reached three decades. The result is a nation more dependent on fossil fuels, including foreign oil, and less energy-secure.
What might have seemed prudent at the time ultimately helped set the stage for today's energy dilemma.
The politics of 1979 are resurfacing again, this time spawned by the massive spill from the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico. As oil gushes into coastal waters, it is unclear whether lawmakers, despite continued public support for offshore drilling, have the political stomach to do the heavy lifting needed to pass a sweeping energy policy this year.
They must find that resolve and fix an energy system that mostly feeds a national addiction to fossil fuels. We're heartened that Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman have pushed ahead with a comprehensive bill in the Senate, despite S.C. Republican Lindsey Graham's political reluctance to wage battle now. Washington needs leadership and bipartisan political courage to craft a national direction toward sustainable energy solutions, and we hope Graham reconsiders.
Without a doubt, the growing BP spill is an environmental nightmare, one that probably would not have happened had tighter safeguards and emergency clean-up procedures been in place. Yet denying offshore drilling a place in America's energy future won't solve our short- or long-term energy crisis. Neither will further delay on building nuclear plants, capping greenhouse gas emissions or encouraging the use of more renewable energy resources, like the sun and wind.
The Kerry-Lieberman bill pragmatically attempts to bridge the thorny economics and politics of energy policy. It proposes emissions caps on certain polluting industries, more nuclear plants and firmer mandates to increase renewable sources. Just as significant, the bill doesn't back away from offshore drilling, which the nation needs as part of its energy portfolio, but does gives the states veto power over drilling near their shores.
The bill also replaces the cap-and-trade provision in last year's House measure with a related mechanism to auction carbon-emitting permits to industry and return a portion of the revenue to allay higher energy bills.
Right now, the bill has no Republican support, and some Democrats have expressed concern about drilling and economic impacts of climate change measures on their states. Differences are to be expected, but senators should debate the bill's particulars with an eye toward compromise and refinement, rather than simply refusing to deal with a politically inconvenient issue.
Achieving energy security is not easy, but certainly we can agree that inaction is no solution.