Last night, in his first official-like Oval Office address, Barack Obama described his administration’s response to the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, and announced specific measures intended to hold British Petroleum directly responsible for the clean-up of the mess and the compensation of those devastated by the millions of gallons of oil that coat the water, the gulf shoreline and its wildlife. You can watch the speech in its entirety here, or read the full transcript here.
It was the latest in what is now becoming an impressive series of speeches from our president. Like his performance at the House Republican retreat or his State of the Union address earlier this year, last night’s address to the nation made me remember (in case I had forgotten) why I voted for this man, and why I still feel fortunate to have him as the President of the United States.
From Obama’s speech:
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.
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’s 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, who is also a former governor of Mississippi and a son of the Gulf Coast, 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.
Obama did meet with Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, CEO Tony Hayward, and other BP executives earlier today, and secured a $20 billion fund from BP, to be independently administered, to cover losses and damages caused by the oil. Obama also made it clear that the $20 billion figure isn’t the ceiling of BP’s liability, that they will be compelled to pay for whatever damage they caused.
The president saved his loftiest rhetoric for the latter half of the speech, where he describes the need for tougher, more independent regulation of the oil industry and for the development of viable, affordable renewable energy sources:
Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.
We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America’s innovation and seize control of our own destiny.
This is not some distant vision for America. The transition away from fossil fuels is going to take some time, but over the last year and a half, we’ve already taken unprecedented action to jumpstart the clean energy industry. As we speak, old factories are reopening to produce wind turbines, people are going back to work installing energy-efficient windows, and small businesses are making solar panels. Consumers are buying more efficient cars and trucks, and families are making their homes more energy-efficient. Scientists and researchers are discovering clean energy technologies that someday will lead to entire new industries.
I’m on his side here, but I have to correct the president slightly. The time to embrace clean energy sources was thirty years ago. We’re late, no matter how you try to spin it. Our leaders — in government and in industry — had a chance to begin transitioning away from fossil fuels toward cleaner, renewable sources of energy before I was born, and they didn’t. They failed us and the rest of the world. They fucked up big. They’ve spent the last three decades compounding that fuck-up with lies, inaction, and profiteering. President Obama has already backed up his promise to hold BP accountable with concrete action. I hope his vision for a future free from dirty, expensive, exhaustible fossil fuels has the same follow-through.
(In the interest of fairness: Not everyone is as pleased with the Obama response to the BP spill as I am. For instance, the great Rick Rottman, who agrees with Jon Stewart of The Daily Show that so far the words of the president have not been translating so well into reality.)