Barack Obama outlined the government response to the oil spill tonight in his first Oval Office address concerning what he referred to as the “worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.” The president pledged that the government will do whatever it takes to make sure the leak is stopped completely and promised that steps are being taken to ensure a disaster of this kind does not happen again, declaring, “Make no mistake: We will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes.”
The immediate response to the speech was unfavorable, though, as pundits and the Twitterverse alike criticized the lack of specificity and urgency (Keith Olbermann took the dig, “It was a great speech if you were on another planet for the last 57 days”).
Obama, who will meet with BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg tomorrow, emphasized that the company will be held responsible for the damage that the spill has caused to residents of the coast, and he said BP will be instructed to set up an escrow account run by a third party.
“ [Svanberg] 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,” Obama said. “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 . And BP will pay for the impact this spill has had on the region.”
After discussing the cleanup — he said that when BP finishes drilling the relief well later this summer, the leak “is expected to stop completely” — he extolled the virtues of clean energy, explaining that this disaster “is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean-energy future is now.” He also advocated for sweeping energy reform to reduce dependence on foreign oil.
“Each of us has a part to play in a new future that will benefit all of us,” he said. “As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of good, middle-class 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.”
Obama said he has charged Navy Secretary Ray Mabus with developing a long-term plan to “restore the unique beauty and bounty of this region.” And he announced that former Justice Department member Michael Bromwich will lead the overhaul of the Minerals Management Service, which he said has become “emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility.”