Watching the Gulf oil spill unfold this past week has been surreal. Almost on cue, we have a coal mining disaster and catastrophic oil spill occur as we begin to ramp up climate and energy legislation talks. You can bet that these two disasters will shape the role of carbon-based fuels in this country moving forward. These don’t mean the end of coal and oil by any means, but there are sure to be more regulations and oversight as a result. Translation: Coal and domestic oil production will probably become more expensive.

It might seem easy to point fingers and lay blame to oil companies and the “drill, baby, drill” crowd, but it’s not that simple. At the end of the day, it is you and I who are using the refined products from these deepwater oil wells. It’s easy to accost the Sarah Palin crowd, but unless you’re not driving in a vehicle powered by a petroleum product, eating food using fertilizers, using a product with polymers or wearing clothes, your hands are a little grimy, too.

Maybe a silver lining emerges in the oily film in the water that is now the Louisiana Gulf Coast: As a nation we’re being confronted with the environmental challenges of energy production as they literally wash up on our shores. We’ve been insulated from these externalities as we rely on our neighbors around the world for our energy supplies. Just ask the Nigerians.

The 1969 blowout of a California oil rig led to the National Environmental Policy Act. Will this event be another turning point in energy and environmental legislation?

Our energy policy is complex. We demand domestic sources of energy – except when we don’t (when things get messy). We also demand clean sources of energy – except when we don’t (when things get expensive). What are our priorities moving forward?