President Barack Obama used Tuesday night’s Oval Office address to the nation to declare war on the ongoing Gulf Coast oil spill and vowed to battle the disaster for as long as it takes.
In his first Oval Office speech since taking office, the president sought to convey a new seriousness to the crisis by comparing U.S. soldiers combating al-Qaida to “the battle we’re waging against an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens.”
“Make no mistake: We will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes,” Obama said. “We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever’s necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.”
The president outlined his administration’s short-term and long-term “battle plan” for containing the damage and preventing similar disasters from happening again. He also pushed his proposal for BP to establish an escrow account to pay out its claims.
“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,” Obama said. He emphasized that the fund will not be controlled by BP, but by an independent third party.
The president also spoke confidently about stopping the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, despite there being no clear path forward after nearly two months of trying to plug the leak.
“Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like,” he said. “Even if we don’t yet know precisely how to get there. We know we’ll get there.”
But the part of his speech that likely caught the most attention on Capitol Hill was his nudge to pass comprehensive energy legislation. Obama called the need for action on the issue the “larger lesson” of the oil spill.
“Part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean [is] because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water,” he said. “Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America’s innovation and seize control of our own destiny.”
The president acknowledged that a transition away from fossil fuels will take time and that there are costs associated with the transition. But he dismissed the idea that Congress can’t afford to come up with ways to pay for those costs in the near future.
“I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security and our environment are far greater,” he said. Everybody’s ideas for paying for an energy overhaul “have merit and deserve a fair hearing in the months ahead,” he added.