So Did He Go Big? Or Did He Go Home?

Campbell Robertson at New York Times:

For much of the last two months, the focus of the response to the Deepwater Horizon explosion has been a mile underwater, 50 miles from shore, where successive efforts involving containment domes, “top kills” and “junk shots” have failed, and a “spillcam” shows tens of thousands of barrels of oil hemorrhaging into the gulf each day.

Closer to shore, the efforts to keep the oil away from land have not fared much better, despite a response effort involving thousands of boats, tens of thousands of workers and millions of feet of containment boom.

From the beginning, the effort has been bedeviled by a lack of preparation, organization, urgency and clear lines of authority among federal, state and local officials, as well as BP. As a result, officials and experts say, the damage to the coastline and wildlife has been worse than it might have been if the response had been faster and orchestrated more effectively.

“The present system is not working,” Senator Bill Nelson of Florida said Thursday at a hearing in Washington devoted to assessing the spill and the response. Oil had just entered Florida waters, Senator Nelson said, adding that no one was notified at either the state or local level, a failure of communication that echoed Mr. Bonano’s story and countless others along the Gulf Coast.

“The information is not flowing,” Senator Nelson said. “The decisions are not timely. The resources are not produced. And as a result, you have a big mess, with no command and control.”

David Kenner at Foreign Policy:

Two House Democrats released a letter accusing BP of making a series of decisions that sacrificed safety in order to save time and money, and ultimately resulted in the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The 14-page letter was sent by Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Rep. Bart Stupak, who serves as the chairman of the subcommittee on oversight and investigations. BP CEO Tony Hayward is scheduled to testify before the committee on Thursday. President Obama will discuss the oil spill during his first Oval Office address on Tuesday, at 8 p.m.

The drilling rig cost between $1 million and $2 million to operate daily, and BP engineers seem to have taken a number of steps meant to finish the project quickly. The letter alleges that they cut corners by using only six devices to center the drill pipe in the well hole, instead of the recommended 21 devices. An uncentered pipe increased the risk of cracks developing in the cement surrounding the pipe. Engineers also neglected to perform a 9- to 12-hour procedure that would have tested the strength of the cement, despite having a team aboard the rig that could have performed the test.

Scarecrow at Firedoglake:

In case the White House hasn’t noticed, no one is fooled or satisfied with the arrangement that has BP nominally in charge of protection and cleanup of the massive damage they’ve caused while claiming the Coast Guard is “overseeing” their efforts. We’re talking about fundamental government functions, and BP is not our government.

It’s understandable the White House is working hard to make sure BP pays the costs; that’s both morally and legally sound. But the White House has been working even harder to make sure BP is left in charge and takes the risks and the hits for anything that doesn’t go well. That White House strategy is inexcusable.

Whatever the limitations on government’s ability to deal with the gusher a mile down, once the oil gets in US waters and approaches America’s shores, it’s government’s absolute responsibility to protect public health/safety and environment. Government can demand responsible parties like BP do X, Y, Z and pay for all of it, but it’s up to government to get it done, even if government employees/agents/contractors working with locals/states have to do it themselves. It’s astonishing anyone would think this is not government’s job.

Saying, “we told BP to do X, but they didn’t” or even “BP didn’t tell us we needed to protect this beach or that island” is not acceptable and won’t get it done. BP is not our government.

Marc Thiessen at The Enterprise Blog:

Tonight, President Obama will address the nation on the Gulf oil spill, the first Oval Office address of his presidency. The decision to address the American people is late in coming—eight weeks after the Deepwater Horizon explosion—but it is better late than never.

The president needs to be realistic about what his address can achieve. As long as people see pictures of the gusher on the ocean floor spewing oil into the Gulf, no rhetoric—however brilliant—will solve his problems. In 2004 and 2005, President Bush delivered countless speeches rallying the country on Iraq, but as long as Americans saw bombs going off in Baghdad they didn’t buy it. Only after the surge stabilized the situation on the ground did his speeches have an impact—because his words finally echoed what people saw on TV screens.

The same is true of this crisis. Until the “spillcam” shows that the flow has been contained, and the images of oil-soaked birds stop appearing on the front page, Obama will not be able to turn public opinion around in a lasting way.

What he can do is show the American people that he is leading. He needs to project a sense of confidence and optimism amid the crisis. He needs to tell Americans that while this is the worst environmental crisis in our history, we have overcome worse in our history—and we will get through this as well. And he needs to lay out a clear plan to do so.

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic:

Aside from regulation, a strong confrontational tone against BP, and an acknowledgment of reality, the White House is remaining mum on whether the President will use the 20 minutes the networks have given him to call for — and push for — a comprehensive energy policy. One clue: Is the DNC’s Organizing for America readying an energy push?

Yesterday’s email from the President to his list may have been a trial balloon, for “we’re certainly going to direct people’s energy to it who are interested in the issue as appropriate,” says a party official, which is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the “Go Big” position.

Whatever the President calls for Tuesday, the Senate hopes he has the votes for it. And House Democrats hope he makes clear distinctions between Democrats and Republicans AND puts pressure on the Senate to “Go Big.” On Thursday, Senate Democrats meet to discuss the future of energy legislation, and the White House hopes that the speech tonight will fortify them, to some degree.

If the Center for American Progress really is pulling the strings on the President’s energy policy, then POTUS will Go Medium Big: check out this memo from Dan Weiss, CAP’s director of climate strategy:

President Obama must use this moment to rally Americans to support a sweeping oil reform agenda that permanently changes the way big oil does business. This means building public demand for standards and investments that deeply cut the $1 billion per day spent on foreign oil, ending tax loopholes for big oil companies, and beginning to crack down on global warming pollution.

If “Go Big” means a strong push for carbon pricing, then this would be the middle ground — a speech that focuses on the oil industry, pollution reduction (including renewable standards and CAFE standard enhancement), lots of money for relief and reconstruction, and an assumption of responsibility for the clean-up.

Daniel Weiss at CAP:

President Barack Obama has made four trips to visit gulf state communities affected by the BP disaster and now plans to give his first-ever Oval Office speech to the nation this Tuesday evening to address the issue. This manmade calamity threatens the nation’s economy, health, and environment. This is also a crucial moment in the BP catastrophe, which threatens to swamp his domestic agenda. But it also provides an opportunity for President Obama to demonstrate leadership by tackling all the aspects of this crisis, including taking charge of the clean up, getting more help from BP, providing long-term public health and economic recovery, and adopting an oil-use and pollution-reduction reform agenda to minimize the likelihood of another catastrophe.

Americans are legitimately frustrated and furious about the oil disaster, which has gone on for 55 days and counting. The public has grave concerns about BP’s inability to stop or slow the gusher of oil contaminating the gulf. Opinion polls also show that respondents have an unfavorable view of the government’s handling of the disaster. This is undoubtedly due to the government’s inability to get BP to staunch the flood of oil, even though BP has far more advanced technology and oil blow-out experience than the federal government.

President Obama must use his speech to make a compelling and passionate case for comprehensive clean-up measures as well as an oil reform program. This is essential to galvanize public demand for immediate steps to reduce damage from the disaster, as well as more active support for longer-term oil use and pollution reductions.

Ezra Klein:

The elements of Barack Obama’s speech tonight that were specifically newsworthy were also broadly-expected: A liability fund that BP will pay into and that a third-party will distribute. A “long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan.” Both ideas sound good. But their worth will be determined by, well, their worth. And Obama did not name any dollar amounts.

He also did not utter the words “climate change” or “global warming.” The closest Obama got was to praise the House for “passing a strong and comprehensive energy and climate bill – a bill that finally makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America’s businesses.” The section of his speech devoted to the issue avoided the politically-controversial problem in order to focus on the broadly-popular solution: Clean energy. “As we recover from this recession,” Obama promised, “the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of good, middle-class jobs.”

Obama did not make any specific promises about the bill he would support, or even that he wanted. He did not say he would price carbon, or that we should get a certain percentage of our energy from renewables by a certain date.

Taegan Goddard with reactions,

Though Obama called for a “national mission” to transition to clean energy, he was vague on what he actually wants to see in a comprehensive energy bill. In doing so, Obama is just another president that has refused to ask Americans for the necessary sacrifice to finally achieve this greater national goal. He missed a golden opportunity.

Allah Pundit:

Things I learned tonight from watching Keith Olbermann’s and Chris Matthews’s post-speech wrap-up: (1) Obama’s rhetoric is gassy and notably short on specifics; (2) renewable energy is much harder to develop than certain prominent Democrats would have us believe; (3) government bureaucracy may be contributing to the slow federal response in the gulf.

Exit question: Am I awake? Click the image to watch.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum

James Joyner with reacts

Andrew Sullivan with reacts

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3 Comments

Filed under Energy, Environment, Political Figures

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