President Barack Obama made an eagerly awaited address to the nation Tuesday night on the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and what he intends to do about it. Better than that, he took the added step of calling all Americans to join him in an effort to get off fossil fuels.
In terms of substance it was an excellent speech, but whether the theatrics were compelling -- the president seated at a desk in the Oval Office -- is debatable. He called the April 20 spill "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced" and said he would force BP to pay for fixing the leak and performing the clean-up, including the recovery and restoration of the Gulf Coast.
Mr. Obama made good on the pledge Wednesday by extracting from BP executives, during a four-hour meeting at the White House, an agreement to set up a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the spill and a separate $100 million fund to pay oil rig workers laid off because of his six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling.
In his speech, the president also promised to avoid a repeat of the disaster at the Deepwater Horizon rig, in part by reforming the failed U.S. regulatory mechanism, the Minerals Management Service, which has been cozy with oil companies.
He then tackled the root of the environmental and economic horror festering in the Gulf, America's addiction to fossil fuels, which has led to ever-riskier offshore deep drilling. Mr. Obama vowed to dedicate his administration to a clean energy future for the United States and said that inaction was the only outcome he would not accept.
While he was not specific on how the United States would get there, he challenged the nation to move toward a clean energy future, something the Gulf disaster has proved is horribly necessary. Whether President Obama has the fortitude to lead this transformation remains in question, but the unsettling aftermath of this spill is a fine place to start.