Obama vows to fight for passage of climate-change bill in Senate

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill should inspire the U.S. to cut its reliance on fossil fuels, President Obama said Wednesday, issuing his strongest promise yet to fight for Senate passage of a climate bill.

The only way the country will ever transition to clean energy is if the private sector has to pay a price for carbon pollution, Obama told an audience of students and faculty at Carnegie Mellon University.

The House has already passed a bill designed to do that, and a similar plan is pending before the Senate, but passage is imperiled by a flood of issues competing for attention this election year.

“I want you to know the votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months,” Obama told an audience of 300 gathered at Carnegie Mellon University. “But we will get this done. The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century.”

The promise came as an administration official tacitly acknowledged that, for the second time this year, the White House is discussing the possibility of canceling a presidential trip to Indonesia and Australia over concerns about the Gulf Coast disaster. At the moment, the trip is still scheduled.

At the same time, White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said the Department of Justice is moving ahead with its criminal investigation of the spill, looking to see “what laws were broken and what possible steps need to be taken in order to make sure that the law is upheld.”

In his speech at the university, Obama said the long-term solution lies in a wholesale change in the energy formula.

“The catastrophe unfolding in the gulf right now may prove to be a result of human error, or corporations taking dangerous shortcuts that compromised safety,” Obama said. “But we have to acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling 4 miles beneath the surface of the Earth, risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes.”

The time has come for the country to embrace “a clean energy future,” he said.

“That means continuing our unprecedented effort to make everything from our homes and businesses to our cars and trucks more energy efficient,” Obama said. “It means tapping into our natural gas reserves, and moving ahead with our plan to expand our nation’s fleet of nuclear power plants. And it means rolling back billions of dollars in tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development.”