The Obama administration has received a lot of flack over the past several weeks for its timid approach to the BP oil disaster. On May 27, the President hinted in a speech that he would turn up the pressure on BP. And now, weeks later, Obama is finally defending his response to what he calls “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.”
In today’s Oval Office speech, Obama guaranteed viewers that the government will make BP pay that it “will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes.” At the same time, the President defended the government’s response thus far, rattling off a list of morale-boosting facts and figures: 30,000 personnel working across four states, thousands of ships and other vessels, authorization of deployment of over 17,000 national guardsman, million of gallons of oil already removed. And while the President admitted that “there will be more oil and more damage before this siege is done,” he failed to mention that the spill might go on until Christmas.
As expected, Obama reiterated the need for safety in future offshore drilling with both a national commission to understand the causes of the disaster and with the continuation a six-month moratorium on licenses for new offshore wells. But even as he admitted that “drilling these days entails greater risks,” Obama didn’t reveal any plans for future moratoriums on offshore drilling. The President did, however, announce the creation of an independent BP-funded escrow account to pay out claims for damages related to the disaster–an appropriate step to ensure that BP doesn’t short-change Gulf Coast residents. [Update: BP has agreed to set up a $20 billion fund for oil disaster victims.]
Obama also provided us with a healthy dose of forward-thinking optimism. He emphasized that “now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America’s innovation,” and that we can–and will–achieve our clean energy goals. The problem of creating enough clean energy isn’t too big, he reasoned, because the “same thing was said about our ability to land a man safely on the moon.”
But in the end, we’re not sure that Obama’s speech is much more than lofty rhetoric. Oil is still flowing, the moratorium on offshore drilling is only temporary and the Justice Department hasn’t begun a proper criminal investigation into BP’s practices. The President even said that he refuses to let Gulf Coast residents’ way of life be destroyed, but how can he realistically guarantee that? We’re curious to see if Obama can eventually reconcile his words with his actions.