So Now What?

06/16/2010 10:17 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last night, President Obama gave his first Oval Office speech to address the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico just hours after a new government report that BP's blowout well is now estimated to be flowing as much as 60,000 barrels of oil per day, or the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez running aground 50 miles offshore Louisiana every 4 days.  Yes, every 4 days, even after 58 days of uncontrolled flow.  The President is facing a crisis of confidence in the federal government due to its inadequate response while this monster continues to roar into the Gulf.  Meanwhile, BP, the foreign corporation who's fouling our waters and rope-a-doping critical information, is still thumbing its nose at the US from its plush offices in London while trying to placate its own shareholders.

The speech, while up to Obama's oratorial standard, fell short of what I think we all needed to hear.  What he should have communicated was that the US government was taking over protecting our own shores, shoving BP out of the way and militarizing the response.  While he did finally call on the Gulf state governors to activate its National Guard units for the response, he fell short of centralizing clean-up authority under the Coast Guard or any military command.  Frankly, I'm sick of us allowing a foreign corporation, who's guilty of fouling our waters and killing 11 good men, to order Americans around in a lame effort to clean up the mess it's made.  Even more infuriating, there are more and more reports now of BP hiding evidence of dead wildlife, restricting access of Americans to American beaches, giving gag orders to American employees, and the Coast Guard's enabling of this unacceptable behavior.

While assuring us that BP will pay for this clean-up, the President gave no real details on how he plans on accomplishing that.  Hopefully, his meeting with BP's big cheese(s) in the White House today will bring some result, but I'm not holding my breath.  While saying that he won't accept inaction, he didn't really enumerate any action he's going to actually take besides pillorying BP (who mightily deserves it).  He did name another new study to reclaim the Gulf Coast, but gave no real goals, objectives, or timeline.  He proposed no new legislation or energy policy, gave no directives to Congress for action.  It was a pep talk, and nothing really more.

The President needs to fight this on two fronts; what to do now, and what to do with policy.  First, he needs to establish clear command and control in two areas; well control and surface response.  As I've talked about previously, BP should be removed as operator of the well and the Get the Well Killed Committee formed, under chairmanship of Interior or the Coast Guard.  They should be tasked with kill and oil recovery operations.  Second, as mentioned above, he should also militarize the surface response immediately and send BP home (after lifting their wallet).  

In terms of policy, there are three important areas; first deepwater drilling regulations.  This will be studied by the Presidential Oil Spill Commission, but since no one with energy experience was named to the commission, a difficult task will be made almost impossible, leaving actual policy recommendations to lobbyists, consultants, and bureaucrats.  Second, new clean-up technology must be developed using pooled resources from the industry and government to establish a fast track plan to get it not only developed, but manufactured and deployed.  

Third, and most important long term, we must have a comprehensive energy policy.  Now.  I don't mean sweeping platitudes about wind, solar, and bio with pictures of sunsets, I mean a real, comprehensive plan that actually reduces our dependence on oil from countries who hate us, including massive development of nuclear, wind, solar, and bio even while we develop our own oil and gas reserves to help stem imports.  It has to include investment in mass transportation infrastructure and strict mileage standards.  Instead of focusing on the environmental issues that gets up everyone's hackles, actual development of all these multiple alternatives will help accomplish our goals of reduced emissions of greenhouse gases without artificial programs like cap and trade that just become lightning rods for opponents who want to stonewall reform.

We are a long way from accomplishing any of these goals.  I fear that the President didn't move us forward much with his speech last night.  Perhaps his actions in coming days will.