The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an unmitigated disaster. Its full consequences will not be known for decades. What we do know, however, is that BP President Tony Hayward was incredibly wrong when he stated that the spill will have “a very, very modest environmental impact.” Quite the contrary! In fact, one of the most beautiful and productive coastal regions of the world is being turned into a giant cesspool and, in the midst of a major recession, thousands of workers are going to lose their livelihoods.

It goes without saying that BP must pick up the full costs of the cleanup and the economic damages. BP earned $5.6 billion in the first quarter of this year. BP, not the American taxpayer, must pay for the devastation it caused.

Further, we must learn that with any risky technology, whether it is offshore oil drilling or nuclear power, it is not good enough to be 99 percent safe. One event can have a calamitous and irreversible impact. We need a major investigation to understand how this accident occurred. We must make certain that precautions are put in place so nothing like it ever happens again.

This crisis occurred at a time when the United States was considering opening new areas to offshore oil drilling. If there is a lesson to be learned from this disaster, it is that Congress must end that policy. There must be no new offshore drilling. Not now! Not ever!

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Offshore drilling simply does not achieve the goals that its advocates claim, and it is not worth the risk. If we are serious about wanting to break our dependence on foreign oil and move to energy independence; if we want to lower the cost of energy; if we want to combat climate change and cut greenhouse gas emissions; if we want to create millions of new jobs — then more offshore drilling is not the way to go. 

The simple truth is that we cannot drill our way to energy independence or lower gas prices. The United States uses roughly 25 percent of the world’s oil, 7.5 billion barrels per year, but we have only 2 to 3 percent of the world’s proven petroleum reserves. Offshore drilling today provides roughly 10 percent of the oil we use in the United States.

That is why on Thursday I introduced legislation to reinstate a ban on new offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific continental shelves and along Florida’s gulf coast and dramatically increase fuel efficiency for vehicles sold in America. Instead of saving 3-cents a gallon by 2030 by allowing wide open offshore drilling, we can save far more with stronger fuel economy standards. Just by raising our fuel efficiency standards to 35.5 miles per gallon for cars and trucks, as President Obama is doing, we will save consumers the equivalent of $1 per gallon of gas in 2030. If we enacted my legislation, we would reach 55 miles per gallon by 2030. That would save motorists the equivalent of $1.43 a gallon of gas. It also would eliminate the need for 3.9 million barrels of oil per day, more than double the amount we now import from Persian Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia.

We know we can get better fuel economy, because other nations are already doing it. The European Union currently gets 42 miles per gallon and is moving to 65 miles per gallon by 2020. China, Canada, Japan, and South Korea all have stronger fuel economy standards than the United States.

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If we take bold action in energy efficiency, public transportation, advanced vehicle technologies, solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal, we can transform our energy system, clean up our environment, and create millions of new jobs in the process. This direction, and not more offshore drilling, is where we have got to go.

This post originally appeared on the Guardian.

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