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What do White House solar panels mean for the Gulf Coast?

It’s been too long since solar panels donned the White House.  The Obama administration announced on Tuesday that it will finally right that wrong.  According to the statement released by the administration, “the solar panels are to be installed by spring 2011, and will heat water for the first family and supply some electricity. But whether the installation is a symbolic gesture or a signal of robust leadership on climate and energy policy remains to be seen.

One indicator that could help clarify the administration’s commitment to real change in the energy sector is leadership on a legislative response to the BP oil spill.

Unfortunately, the administration is currently busy defending itself against a series of working papers issued by the Oil Spill Commission that state the administration created the impression that it was “either not fully competent” or “not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem.”

It would serve the administration to cease its collusion with BP and take a strong position on the necessary reforms that would assist with holding big oil accountable, strengthen safety and environmental regulations for offshore drilling and increase the rights of both oil rig workers and Gulf coast residents.  Such legislation has already passed the House of Representatives, but the Senate companion bill has yet to come to the floor.

In fact, each day that we move further from the summer of oil jeopardizes an adequate response to the crisis that dumped more than 4 billion barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

There are already signs that Congress is cozying back up to the oil industry – which spent nearly $75 million between January and June lobbying the federal government – in inactions like the Senate’s failure to approve subpoena power for the Oil Spill Commission. Without the authority to subpoena witnesses and compel testimony Congress is shielding companies associated with the spill from providing accurate and timely information. In response commission co-chairs William Reilly and Bob Graham had this to say,

Reilly, said the goal is “to get 100 percent certainty about what happened,” but it is impossible to chase away doubt without deposing witnesses under oath.

“Without subpoena power, we will do the best we can,” Graham said. “But it will not be as good as the American people deserve.”

So while we do applaud the Obama Administration for its decision to go solar and encourage the celebration of this renewable step forward, we hope that after the party is over, they will put on a strong pot of fair trade coffee and get back to work on holding BP accountable and restoring the Gulf.

Allison Fisher is Public Citizen’s Energy Organizer