WASHINGTON — President Obama said Wednesday that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has hardened his resolve to impose "a price" on carbon emissions to drive private investment away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy.
Speaking at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, a city that turned to health care and technology after the collapse of the region's steel industry, Obama said he supports more domestic offshore drilling "only if it's used as a short-term solution while we transition to a clean-energy economy."
He also said that he'd be personally involved in finding enough votes in Congress to pass legislation that limits carbon emissions and redirects the flow of private investment toward cleaner energy alternatives. That should go hand in hand with encouraging energy-efficient products, reducing tax breaks for oil companies, tapping natural gas reserves and expanding nuclear power, he said.
"The time has come to aggressively accelerate that transition. But the only way the transition to clean energy will succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future, if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed," Obama said. "And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution."
Obama didn't talk about the pocketbook implications of carbon limits, as in higher costs for consumers. He also didn't say which carbon-limit measures he thinks Congress can pass, and which should be delayed — a level of specificity that some activists want to hear from him.
The president said the BP oil spill reinforces the "inherent" risks to drilling several miles under the Earth's surface, "risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes."
"An America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and our grandchildren," the president said.
Obama's policy remarks were also heavily tinged with politics. He faces declining public support as a result of the oil spill response and has an eye on Democrats' fate in November's congressional elections.
Obama acknowledged that a clean-energy proposal being pushed by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., doesn't have the votes to pass, but added, "I intend to find them in the coming months."