Tuesday night, President Obama gave a prime-time speech to our nation from the Oval Office, an 18-minute outline of the status of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, ‘the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced,‘ and a look forward.
The President summarized the facts of the oil spill and actions taken by BP and the administration to date to contain the damage. The ‘battle plan’ he laid out included commitments by the government and by BP to clean up the spill. But the critical parts of his speech, in my opinion, were the challenges to restore the Gulf region and to move beyond oil.
The restoration of the Gulf coast Mr. Obama talked about last night is not just the clean-up plan for the area, but also a habitat restoration plan on a large scale. This would address not only effects of the oil spill, but also the effects of decades of wetland and barrier island degradation that have resulted in loss of function of these areas as ecological buffers. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar alluded to this plan recently when he talked about restoring the area to ‘better than it was before’, and Admiral Thad Allen affirmed this in comments to the press. A restoration effort on this scale has been badly needed for a long time, as we saw during the hurricane season several years ago.
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.
That Obama is going to take this disaster and make it into an opportunity to restore ecosystem function in the Gulf is a huge step forward, and one we should get behind him to support in Congress.
The President also pointed out that the reason BP was drilling a deep ocean well is that all the ‘easy’ oil is gone, leaving us to attempt to extract it from places we shouldn’t have to.
So one of the lessons we’ve learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling. But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. And that’s part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean -- because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.
Obama called out for a shift from oil to alternative energy for our nation. That’s right; he referred to the end of our dependence on fossil fuels!
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. …Each of us has a part to play in a new future that will benefit all of us. As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs -– but only if we accelerate that transition. Only if we seize the moment. And only if we rally together and act as one nation –- workers and entrepreneurs; scientists and citizens; the public and private sectors.
Responses to the speech were mixed, but the most aggravating were the ones that wanted him to do more, or say more, or provide more detail. I do not know what they were expecting. Did they think Obama was going to issue an executive order moving us along a sustainable energy path? Were they expecting him to embrace whatever pet policy position they hold? What nonsense. They didn’t want to hear what he said and what I heard. The President has asked us to face this task together. We are going to do it. We are going to make the movement.
This was a speech to reassure us that the administration and BP are doing the best they can to contain the spill. It was a way to let us know that we, as a nation, are going to make lemonade out of lemons: by implementing a huge Gulf restoration project, and by moving away from our dependence on fossil fuels.
The House of Representatives passed the ACES bill last summer, and the Senate is on the cusp of moving forward on a climate and energy bill of their own. The President has said it’s time to move forward together. And I, for one, am with him. My job, our job is to join 1Sky, Audubon, or any of a number of advocacy groups to push our Senators to act. Write letters to the editor, make phone calls, and send emails. Are you with me? Are you with President Obama?