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BP – BARACK PETROLEUM (Headline from The Drudge Report)


A version of this editorial appeared in print on June 16, 2010, on page A30 of the New York edition.


From the Oval Office

Americans have been anxiously waiting for President Obama to take full charge of the gulf oil catastrophe. On Tuesday, in his first address from the Oval Office, he vowed to “fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes” and declared that “we will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused.”

Mr. Obama and his team will have to follow through — with more energy and dedication than they have shown so far.

We know that the country is eager for reassurance. We’re not sure the American people got it from a speech that was short on specifics and devoid of self-criticism. Certainly, we hope that Mr. Obama was right when he predicted that in “coming weeks and days,” up to 90 percent of the oil leaking from the well will be captured and the well finally capped by this summer. But he was less than frank about his administration’s faltering efforts to manage this vast environmental and human disaster.

Fifty-six days into the spill and it is not clear who is responsible — BP, federal, state or local authorities — for the most basic decisions, like when to deploy booms to protect sensitive wetlands. It’s not even clear how much oil is pouring out of the ruptured well. On Tuesday, a government panel raised the estimate to as much as 60,000 barrels a day.

Responding to legitimate fears that BP might run out of money or find ways to dodge its obligations, Mr. Obama said that he would order it to “set aside whatever resources are required” to compensate individuals and businesses. Mr. Obama also said the fund would be run by an independent third party to ensure that all legitimate claims were paid out in a fair and timely manner.

He did not, however, say how much money BP must set aside. And it is not clear if the president is also demanding that BP reserve many billions more for the huge cleanup and restoration.

We hope those questions will be answered on Wednesday when the president meets with BP’s chairman and other top officials of the company. There can be no doubts about the company’s liability — or about Mr. Obama’s determination to press it to pay.

Mr. Obama vowed that he would do all that was necessary to ensure that a disaster like this does not happen again. He repeated his pledge to strengthen federal oversight of the oil industry. That, too, will require determined, indeed relentless, follow-up.

Because of a mixture of philosophy, incompetence and negligence, federal regulators have failed for years to do their jobs. Left to its own devices, industry blithely insisted that deep-water drilling was safe and that it had the means to deal with any possible accident. The blowout on the Deepwater Horizon rig has shown that both statements were flat-out untrue.

Even now, after the worst environmental disaster in American history, industry is unbowed. In Congressional testimony on Tuesday, top officials of Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips insisted that this spill was an aberration and that their companies couldn’t possibly make the same mistakes. Representative Edward Markey noted, pointedly, that the response plans of all four companies were virtual carbon copies of BP’s.

In his address, Mr. Obama pressed the Senate to move ahead with a long-stalled comprehensive energy and climate bill, a necessary first step to reducing this country’s dependence on fossil fuels and tackling the problem of global warming. Time is quickly running out for Congress to act before the midterm elections. There is no chance at all unless Mr. Obama takes full charge of that fight as well.

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