Photo via IB Times
The calls have been intensifying over the last couple weeks, both from residents around the Gulf of Mexico and environmentalists everywhere: Step up to the plate, Obama. Take the reins from BP. The company's response has been a costly, devastating failure, and so far, the Obama administration-directed federal agencies have allowed it to continue. But there are two distinct opportunities that need to be seized -- the opportunity to stop the underwater geyser of oil, and the opportunity to use this dreadful event to illustrate why we should begin the transition to a clean energy economy. Here's why Obama should take both.Calls for Obama to do exactly that have been heard far and wide--the Huffington Post routinely runs banner headlines lambasting the administration for allowing BP to continue to run the show. The Mother Nature Network is fuming. Chris Matthews has publicly professed his fear of the Obama administration's lackluster response. The comparatively conservative New York Times' writer Andrew Revkin calls on Obama to take charge this week, should BP's last ditch efforts fail.
Let's make one distinction clear -- this is not Obama's Katrina. That comparison is reductive and desperately malicious. But the BP spill could nonetheless be something uniquely negative and permanently scarring to his legacy. It's not that he's not empathetic, or flat out bungling a response effort -- it's more complicated than that.
The case largely seems to be that Obama's administration is as uncertain as BP about how to deal with the spill -- this thing is unprecedented, after all -- and seeing as how the spill is technically BP's physical and political mess, it's reluctant to wade in, and open itself to criticism. The harsher attacks on Obama's response seem largely off-base -- a Coast Guard officer who blunders or Fish & Wildlife expert who makes a tactical error shouldn't be held up as evidence that Obama is blowing it in general.
Photo via NY Daily News
But the fact remains that BP has demonstrated time again over the course of this disaster that it can't be trusted to front the response operation unregulated -- withholding knowledge about the spill from the public, engaging in finger-pointing and blame-mongering instead of addressing the issue head-on, clinging to an overly toxic, largely ineffective chemical dispersant (perhaps due to business ties) to fight the slick, failing to provide cleanup workers proper safety gear, preventing independent scientists and engineers from taking a stab at the cleanup solutions, the list goes on. There's an airtight case here that says BP shouldn't be running the show.
Furthermore, the Financial reform bill just passed the Senate, which means the agenda is open for a new bill. The smart money says climate and clean energy is up next, so it's due time to get into message mode and start explaining the virtues of renewables and the downsides of fossil fuels (hint hint) to the American people. Obama needs to lead here as well, if the dogged bill has any chance of passing, and to build a strong case for widening the scope of clean energy and curbing carbon.
All this will take more than uttering a few harsh words at BP and calling it a day -- this will include gathering scientists to find a sustainable containment solution, opening the doors to the press, finding a strategy to sell clean energy legislation without offshore drilling compromises, and holding BP financially responsible even if its not calling the shots, among other things. It's a tall order, sure, but if Obama wants to make good on one of his campaign promises, to bring cleaner energy to America, then this may be his shot.