If I was disappointed about anything, it is that Douglas Brinkley’s Gulf Recovery Act didn’t make a full-throated appearance, but it was hinted at.
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.Let me reiterate, the Gulf Oil Volcano breaks down into two tracks. One is environmental, the other is Investigatory. The environmental track is about the cutoff of the Oil Volcano rapidly poisoning the Gulf, and the eventual clean-up of its effects. The Investigatory track is about finding out what happened, who did it, and administering justice to those involved.
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.
To paraphrase Lewis Black, if a news story about the Gulf Oil Spill doesn’t fall onto one of those two tracks, no one’s catching it, it ain't news.
The Gulf Fishermen, and the "lost way of life" mentioned in the speech, fall into both categories. The Fishermen and rescue workers suffer at the hands of the environmental track, they get justice in the Investigatory track.
To be even more direct, if it doesn't fall into one of those two tracks, it's just bleating about BP. Granted, BP deserves to get beaten about the head, but all the Firebagger bleating in the world isn't going to stop that volcano from spewing.
But for the first time in a long while, we did get some news (and not just the fact that this was the President's first Oval Office Address).
One, we got ourselves a new Director for MMS. How he’ll work out, I don’t know, but I like the fact he’s a former Inspector General for the Justice Department under Bubba.
When Ken Salazar became my Secretary of the Interior, one of his very first acts was to clean up the worst of the corruption at this agency. But it’s now clear that the problem there ran much deeper, and the pace of reform was just too slow. And so Secretary Salazar and I are bringing in new leadership at the agency -- Michael Bromwich, who was a tough federal prosecutor and Inspector General. And his charge over the next few months is to build an organization that acts as the oil industry’s watchdog -- not its partner.
Two, and I don’t know how this got underreported in the aftermath of the speech, but Obama said the Government was going to compel BP to pay the freight for the cleanup, and apparently that’s official as of this morning.
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.
Three, he said there was going to be a way to capture 90% of the oil coming out of the volcano until the relief wells are dug in.
Because there has never been a leak this size at this depth, stopping it has tested the limits of human technology. That’s why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge -- a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation’s Secretary of Energy. Scientists at our national labs and experts from academia and other oil companies have also provided ideas and advice.
As a result of these efforts, we’ve directed BP to mobilize additional equipment and technology. And in the coming weeks and days, these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well. This is until the company finishes drilling a relief well later in the summer that’s expected to stop the leak completely.
Commentary about the speech skewed pretty negative, but there were a few comments from favorites (and one surprise) that caught my attention:
His language was a close echo of the language he used in the health-care fight. "There are costs associated with this transition," he said, using a formulation many will remember from health care. "And some believe we can’t afford those costs right now. I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy." Similarly familiar was his reminder that "I am happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party – as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels," and his promise that "the one approach I will not accept is inaction."
The optimistic take, at least for environmentalists, is that this is the language and approach Obama uses when he really means to legislate. The pessimistic take is that Obama shied away from clearly describing the problem, did not endorse specific legislation, did not set benchmarks, and chose poll-tested language rather than a sharper case that might persuade skeptics.
So far: two steps backward for every one forward. But it's worth remembering that almost every step backward on innovating post-carbon energy comes from the GOP. Obama and the Dems would have passed a serious climate bill by now if it weren't for total Republican obstructionism (with the fitful exception of Butters). Obama is not the real obstacle here: the American people are, however manipulated by short-term political maneuvering by Republicans. And he does not have the political capital at this point in time to twist their arms. He has already pushed so many as far as they can go - on the issues of the economy and health insurance.
I'm hoping one day he will be able to push again. Maybe with a more Republican Congress from next year on, he has more of a chance. Because they will be forced to say what they're for, rather than always pivoting from day to day based on what they're against.
...and super surprise guest-star Paul Begala:
As one who has been critical of the president's response to the disaster so far, I was enormously impressed with this speech. Obama communicated his personal commitment, and the commitment of the entire country, to the people of the Gulf region. He called for a new energy economy - one that creates more jobs and costs fewer lives. Perhaps most important, he made accountability a presidential priority. BP must be punished; the people of the Gulf must be made whole; the American coastline must be reclaimed.
He closed on an emotionally resonant note for all of us who grew up fishing in the Gulf: the blessing of the fleet. In so doing he told us that he gets it. He understands this is not about barrels of oil and billions of dollars. This is about a way of life. This is about a life-giving region. And this is about the eleven lives that were lost.
There is a villain in this story, and it's not Barack Obama. It is BP and its corporate cohorts. This is why the Katrina analogy is so unfair. The guy who was president when New Orleans drowned -- I can't recall his name offhand -- froze our government in icy indifference. His own people did not know that American citizens were stranded at the New Orleans convention center without food or water. They did nothing as Americans were drowning and families were clinging to life on their rooftops. Can any fair-minded person realistically compare that to President Obama's earnest, engaged--and until tonight somewhat emotionally aloof--response to BP? No way.