President Obama demanded that BP establish an escrow account to set aside funds to compensate those effected by the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on national television last night. The account is to be administered by an independent third party, according to the president. Democratic senators are asking for $20 billion from the oil company.
He used the opportunity to call for a “national mission” to transition the economy from fossil fuel dependence to alternative energy. The president cited both the Gulf spill, increased technological competition from China and the trade deficit as reasons for his call.
The president said the transition has the potential to grow the economy and create millions of new jobs. Anticipating criticisms that the costs of funding such a transition are prohibitively expensive, the president argued that the cost of inaction is much greater, and compared the move to renewable energy to the U.S. effort in World War II and space race.
Regarding the ongoing spill, the president said his administration would provide whatever resources Gulf Coast states require to continue to deal with the disaster. The president has also asked Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan, and has promised to look into the lack of oversight that lead to the spill in the first place.
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) applauded the president’s speech. “The President has challenged the Senate to be smart instead of shortsighted,” said Fred Krupp, president of EDF, in a press release. “It’s now up to Senators to stand up to the oil companies and move aggressively to clean up this mess: the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico and the billions of American dollars flowing to the Middle East.”
Greenpeace, however, was more critical of the president’s reaction in a response released prior to the speech.
“Big oil, coal and nuclear companies have commandeered the President’s energy policy. The recently-formed federal oil spill commission is headed by former EPA Administrator William Reilly, who has been on the Board of Directors at the Conoco-Phillips oil company since 2002,” Greenpeace Executive Director Philip Radford said in the press release. He also criticized climate czar Carol Browner for seeking to shorten the moratorium on off-shore drilling.
The speech lacked specifics regarding reducing emissions reductions and carbon management, which earned the president criticism from commentators who said avoiding the climate issue works against the Kerry-Lieberman senate bill.
The senators were more optimistic about the ramifications of the president’s speech, however. In a joint statement, the two interpreted the speech as support for their stalled climate bill.
“This could be a historic leadership moment. President Obama used his first-ever Oval Office address to call for the passage of comprehensive energy and climate legislation. There can be no doubt that the President is rolling up his sleeves to ensure we establish a market mechanism to tackle carbon pollution, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs each year, strengthen energy independence and improve the quality of the air we breathe.”