Wednesday, June 16, 2010

President Obama's remarks on the BP oil disaster

President Obama spoke last night from the Oval Office, regarding the British Petroleum oil disaster.  His remarks were brief (running about 17 minutes) and vague.  Very short on specifics.

A few things I noticed:
Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party.
Not forceful enough, frankly.  First of all, why did the President refrain from naming Tony Hayward, British Petroleum's CEO? Why allow Hayward that bit of anonymity?  Many of President Obama's critics claim (preposterously) that he is a socialist.  A real socialist would seize BP's assets and nationalize the corporation.

Beyond compensating the people of the Gulf in the short-term, it's also clear we need a long-term plan to restore the unique beauty and bounty of this region. The oil spill represents just the latest blow to a place that has already suffered multiple economic disasters and decades of environmental degradation that has led to disappearing wetlands and habitats. And the region still hasn't recovered from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That's why we must make a commitment to the Gulf Coast that goes beyond responding to the crisis of the moment.

I make that commitment tonight.  Earlier, I asked Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, a former governor of Mississippi, and a son of the Gulf, to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan as soon as possible. The plan will be designed by states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, businesses, conservationists, and other Gulf residents. And BP will pay for the impact this spill has had on the region.
Certainly, when President Obama says this, the words carry more meaning and significance than ten thousand of the lies that Junior used to blabber in the aftermath of Katrina.  But the President's rhetoric was vague.  Speaking in vagaries worked as a tactic in the health care debate, but this is different.  We're in the midst of a real-time national disaster.  I was looking for something more immediate:  a summoning of resources, or a call to action.

One place we have already begun to take action is at the agency in charge of regulating drilling and issuing permits, known as the Minerals Management Service. Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility -- a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves. At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations.
One unlooked-for benefit of the BP oil disaster is that it seems to have shut Dick Cheney's yap for the time being.  Remember those energy policy meetings that Cheney fought to keep secret all the way to the Supreme Court?  I wonder, was the Minerals Management Service discussed at all in those meetings?  Could Attorney General Holder find out?  Did Big Dick's ticker do a little hop-kick when he heard the President's words?  I hope so.

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America's century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked -- not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.
Straight talk.  We could use a lot more of it.

The President went on to discuss the need for energy independence and some general ideas about how to approach it, concluding:
...the one approach I will not accept is inaction. The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is too big and too difficult to meet. You see, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II. The same thing was said about our ability to harness the science and technology to land a man safely on the surface of the moon. And yet, time and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom. Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is our capacity to shape our destiny -- our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we're unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don't yet know precisely how to get there. We know we'll get there.
It seems clear that the President plans to approach energy legislation using the same tactics he used in the health care debate.  That is, as a "community organizer," setting the framework, making suggestions, advocating positions, but leaving the hard-knuckle implementation to Congress.  And why not?  Although the health care debate was bruising, in the end, Congress did produce.  But with toxic black spew gushing into the Gulf, reminding us of the urgency, President Obama seems detached.

All in all, I'd have to say the speech did not inspire confidence. The President's remarks left me vaguely disappointed, and very sorry.  Disappointed, because the President seems reluctant and uncertain.  Sorry, because I can't summon enough faith in, or respect for, my countrymen to believe that we can pull together.  Not even in the face of this disaster

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