With the dramatic elimination of Osama Bin Laden came an important psychological boost to the American people. There is a collective sense that there's nothing we cannot do if we set our minds to it.
Along with that boost came an important upswing in President Obama's approval ratings. At 51 percent approval rating in his 10th quarter as president, he is a full 7 percentage points ahead of Ronald Reagan's approval rating in his 10th quarter. With that upswing comes the responsibility to use his recharged political capital to tackle our greatest national (and international) threat - climate change - and to take advantage of this opportunity to fuel a new green economy.
Clearly feeling optimistic, President Obama made an important speech about our energy future. Clean energy, he said, will help us out-compete and out-innovate the rest of the world. "Clean-energy jobs are the jobs of the future. I don't want other countries to win the competition for these technologies and jobs. I want America to win that competition. I want America to win the future."
So do we. That's why the president needs to use his replenished political capital and increased approval ratings to push Congress for comprehensive climate and energy legislation that holds oil companies accountable and reduces our dependence on oil while protecting the environment.
We need a National Climate Act implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The president should propose a stringent carbon tax or an economy-wide cap-and-trade program with stringent timetables over several decades. If Congress again fails to act, then use the EPA's rulemaking authority that the Supreme Court verified in 2007. Inaction is not an option.
We must implement a comprehensive clean-energy plan for high-quality jobs, economic growth, cleaner air, water and food, and for the reduced dependence on foreign oil that will come as a result. The sooner we pass such legislation, the sooner we build a thriving green economy - and have the jobs and economic growth that will come with that thriving green economy.
Just over a year ago we had one of the world's largest oil spills in a region that a few years before had been torn apart by a catastrophic hurricane. During this past year we have seen the resounding defeat of climate legislation; a major turnover in Congress; the rise and now dominance of China in what had been our solar market to lose; the rise in credibility of climate deniers; an increase in extraordinary weather events; multiple countries experiencing the hottest year on record; and an unthinkable nuclear accident caused by a tsunami. Take the Mississippi River's recent flooding and ravaging the residential areas around it; and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Greenland coincided with a new report that revealed the ice cap is melting at devastatingly high levels - much higher than earlier anticipated.
America is a "can do" nation with the persistence, tenacity and talent to succeed. It's time for the Administration and Congress to join the American people with the same kind of persistence, tenacity and talent to work to gain America's freedom from oil, regain our technological supremacy, and protect our natural resources.
Neither our economy nor our planet can afford any more delays.
- Bill Richardson is the former governor of New Mexico and the former Secretary of Energy, and Kathleen Rogers is president of Earth Day Network.