LEARNING THE APPROPRIATE LESSON…. We know a few things for sure about the still-unfolding BP Oil Spill disaster in the Gulf. For example, we know it was initially considered a limited accident, but BP’s original assessment was wrong. We know the media appears anxious to blame the White House, for no apparent reason. And we also know the ecological, environmental, and even economic consequences of this disaster are likely to be pretty devastating for the Gulf region.

Jonathan Alter, meanwhile, is looking ahead — after the spill reaches the shore, after the inevitable clean-up, and after all the finger-pointing — and pointing to a truth that we should also know.

After the immediate crisis passes and the cleanup is well underway, we should look to the larger cause of this disaster as well as the recent coal-mine explosion in West Virginia: our dependence on fossil fuels.

This sounds like a platitude amid human and environmental fiascoes, but there’s no reason that over the course of this century we should have either coal mines or oil rigs. To begin to move toward a clean energy future — the best hope, by the way, for the global economy — we need a new energy policy.

So the question is whether the disaster might give new life to efforts to pass comprehensive energy legislation. Such a bill wouldn’t have prevented the gulf spill, but it would put us on a path toward moving away from fossil fuels over the next few decades. Lindsey Graham’s announcement that he wanted to shelve the energy bill because the Democrats had the temerity to raise immigration issues is looking a bit petty.

Obama now has an argument on both energy and immigration: these long-festering problems, exploding before our eyes, must be dealt with in a “comprehensive” fashion…. The Arizona immigration bill and the coal-mine and oil-spill disasters are examples of what happens when we don’t move away from old ways of doing things that do nothing to solve long-term problems.

It’s ironic, in a way, that the BP Oil Spill disaster has put the climate/energy bill’s future in further doubt, in large part because expanding drilling opportunities was considered a prerequisite to getting even marginal Republican support. With new offshore drilling leases on hold for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to know what Dems can put in the bill to generate bipartisan support. Indeed, many Republicans are still saying “drill, baby, drill,” even this morning.

But that’s what makes Alter’s point all the more compelling — the disaster in the Gulf shouldn’t stall climate/energy efforts on the Hill, it should strengthen those efforts. The ongoing spill should give advocates more momentum, not less.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.