Obama Pledges Reform in Oil Spill Aftermath: Real Change or More Empty Promises?

The oil spill's devastating impacts on wildlife continue, image courtesy of the Associated Press

The oil spill's devastating impacts on wildlife continue, image courtesy of the Associated Press

In his first ever Oval Office address to the American people on Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out plans for the difficult road ahead in dealing with the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which began back in April. He outlined the extensive mobilization of resources and expertise to continue cleanup efforts in the months and years ahead, and vowed to examine failures in BP operations and government regulations during the six-month moratorium on offshore drilling to ensure that such a disaster is not repeated. President Obama neglected, however, to acknowledge that in an ecological system as fragile as the Gulf region from over-development, marine pollution, and wetland destruction, some impacts from the spill will be severe and irreversible.

President Obama also vowed to reform the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the federal agency charged with regulating and issuing permits for oil drilling, which currently operates under heavy influence from the Big Oil companies it is supposed to regulate. Industry collusion with many regulatory agencies and lawmakers remains a serious problem, and President Obama must be held accountable to his promise to eliminate this source of corruption, which undermines the ability of the federal government to enact socially and environmentally responsible policies.

Later in his speech, President Obama warned policymakers that they must not miss this opportunity to lead a major transition to a clean energy economy, stating that “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.” He welcomed plans for energy R&D and renewable energy portfolio and energy efficiency standards, and praised last year’s passage of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. President Obama now needs to go one step further and put his full political weight behind the Kerry-Lieberman comprehensive climate and energy bill before midterm elections this fall.

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