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Obama's Speech on the BP Oil Disaster

June 16, 2010 ·

The president needs to harness the public's progressive spirit if he wants to enact real change on energy.

Obama BP speechObama addressed the nation in primetime last night from the Oval Office to placate fear and anger about the BP oil spill. The president’s somber, seated address was a firm reassurance of a forthcoming solution and continued governmental assistance. He listed ongoing clean-up efforts and successes, forthcoming projects, and federal oversight efforts through the Coast Guard and National Guard.

But it was also a rallying cry. Using provocative language in attempts to galvanize the American public around his new “battle plan,” Obama characterized the challenge of the oil spill clean-up as a “battle” against the oil “assaulting our shores.” This tactic certainly oversimplifies the issue into a black and white, good vs. evil duality, but judgment should be withheld until we see how effectively the administration leverages this duality for progress.

To his credit, Obama acknowledged that mistakes had been made and that imperfections would continue to arise, but asked for feedback and critique to be channeled to a newly created commission. This commission, in charge of retroactively determining the cause of the Deepwater Horizon rig’s explosion and enforcing new regulations on the oil industry, is undeniably one of Obama’s strongest reactions to the irresponsibility of the corporate world thus far. He clarified in a sharp tone that the federal commission would, “act as the oil industry’s watchdog, not its partner.”

In addition, Obama placed considerable financial pressure on BP to compensate gulf coast residents and businesses damaged by the spill, channeling money through a third-party escrow fund. Only 16 hours after the national address, BP executives announced they would offer $20 billion over the course of several years into a private escrow fund for spill claims.

 $20 billion will only be a drop in the bucket for the true cost of this disaster. The federal, state and local governments will end up shouldering considerable costs as well. Obama pronounced that we will “fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes…we will offer whatever additional resources our coastal states may need.” 

While this may be reassuring rhetoric, Obama needs to take precautions to ensure his bold promises are not a blank check that will damage the Treasury even worse than the Gulf Coast.

Ultimately, a long-term solution will involve the input and resources of the private sector and all levels of government to clean-up and restore the gulf coast. To accomplish this, Obama truly needs to rally the country onto their feet to contribute to his battle plan. He drew the analogy between the enormity of breaking America’s fossil fuel dependency with Kennedy’s space race ambitions to land an American on the moon first. Yes, we succeeded then. But how feasible is landing on the moon during a recession while fighting two wars and facing a debt crisis? 

Obama said that it can be done.  He has set the stage for an energy transition of monumental proportions, and turned the spotlight on himself for the first act. He needs to act quickly to harness the nation’s outrage/progressive spirit in order to set the wheels in motion for real change in Act Two.