June 14, 2010

My fellow Americans...

Good evening.  I'm here tonight in the Oval Office to speak to you about the oil disaster that is unfolding off the coast of Louisiana and along the coast of the Gulf Of Mexico.

As you know, just over two months ago a massive, deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, a technologically advanced offshore oil drilling rig and unleashed an unprecedented undersea oil leak that has yet to be fully contained.  That leak has caused the largest environmental catastrophe in our nation's history.

Since the explosion, I have continuously monitored the situation. Within 48 hours, my administration has mobilized the largest response to an environmental disaster of this kind in the history of our country.  Along with thousands of troops, oil cleanup specialists and environmental engineers, the best scientists in our government -- including NASA engineers government environmentalists and oceanographers -- have been working nonstop with the petroleum industry's top experts to stop the leak at its source. Thousands of sound, practical ideas to shut down the well and mitigate the environmental damage has been considered, regardless of its source.

Yet the extraordinary scope of an oil leak a mile below the ocean's surface has defied a quick, easy solution, and the oil has continued to flow for 49 days, threatening our coastline and damaging the region's economy.  While I'm confident the well will be sealed, it will take time. Exactly how long, however, is difficult to predict.

Nevertheless, if the deep-sea leak were somehow halted immediately, we would still face the challenge of cleaning up crude oil from sensitive wetlands and beaches, rescuing endangered wildlife and assessing the long-term damage to our ocean.  It's clear our nation will be dealing with this disaster for the foreseeable future, and will test our ability to rebuild the fragile natural environment that is the lynchpin for the region's survival.

As your president, I pledge to you tonight to hold British Petroleum accountable for this disaster.  Let me be clear: they caused it, they are liable for it and they owe nothing less than their best effort.  I will make sure they collect every drop of oil that is spilled, and I will work with Congress to make sure that Gulf Coast residents are made whole. No corners will be cut in cleaning up this mess.

I also have ordered BP to set up a billion-dollar escrow account for those whose livelihoods are affected by this disaster.  If BP balks, the government will do it for them.

I will also pledge to deploy every federal resource at my disposal to the areas of the disaster to set up protective barriers against the oil, clean up oil that has already reached the shore and monitor the health of residents exposed to the crude oil.  At this hour, teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Department of Energy and the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Agency -- are in the Gulf of Mexico working to guard our shores from the oil slick and protect the health and welfare of residents of those communities affected by the disaster.

I have also directed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to overhaul the Mineral Management Service, the government agency responsible for oversight of oil companies like BP.  Because lax oversight has contributed to this tragedy, Secretary Salazar has my authority to conduct a full-scale audit and clean house where necessary, permanently ending the decades-long cozy relationship between regulators and the oil and gas industry.

And I will work with leaders in Congress to make sure it never happens again.  I am calling for leaders on Capitol Hill for stronger regulatory laws of the oil and gas industries, and to increase funding for oversight agencies like the MMS, removing the temptation to enter the revolving door between the government and the private sector.

But I also come before you tonight to discuss another national challenge.

The Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded April 29 was just one of dozens of high-tech offshore drilling vessels that international oil conglomerates have stationed inside our territorial boundaries.  Some are operating at staggering depths, up to two miles below the ocean's surface, twice as deep as the Deepwater Horizon.  They are doing so for one reason: to profit from the insatiable global thirst for oil.

Last year, the top five most profitable companies in the world were oil and gas corporations: Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, and Chevron, as well as BP, are among them.  

Each day, our nation alone consumes nearly a quarter of the oil produced in the world.  Yet US drivers pay, on average, the lowest per-gallon cost for fuel among all developed nations.  Our adversaries have used our national oil addiction to their advantage, threatening our security and triggering economic instability.  I am old enough to remember both the Arab oil embargo as well as gas that sold for less than 50 cents a gallon, but I also know that every American president since Richard Nixon -- Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal -- has vowed to end our oil dependence. 

Yet despite our best efforts and honest intentions, US oil consumption is at a record level. To satisfy that demand, companies like BP develop technology to tap into increasingly remote, risky oil fields, on land as well as the sea floor.  They can continue to reap staggering profits by satisfying our unending demand for cheap fuels, with our increasingly fragile environment at stake.  

We do not have to look very far to see the tragic results when such risks go wrong. Beaches become scarred with oil.  Wildlife and wetlands suffocate, coated with raw crude oil.  Fisherman, idled by contaminated fishing grounds, are unable to earn a living and feed their families.  

Yet this national tragedy presents us with an extraordinary opportunity.

The irresponsible actions of an oil giant have led to a defining moment, one in which we can decisively kick an oil addition that keeps us beholden to others to meet our needs. The searing images we've seen in the last month -- a deadly oil rig explosion, crude oil billowing unchecked from a ruptured undersea pipeline, miles-wide oil slicks laying waste to our pristine coastal wetlands -- must be the catalysts for us to pivot from an archaic energy model rooted in the 19th century into one based on clean, sustainable energy that will give us true energy independence and ensure that another oil disaster can never happen again.

I call upon those of us who want to be true leaders to take bold steps toward a stronger future by doing three things:  Support a graduated gasoline tax, with the tax applying to oil and gas consumers based on need and ability to pay;  advance a widespread review of our nation's mass transit efficiency and draft plans for an overhaul, and support my plans to accelerate the widespread manufacture of hybrid and electric cars.

Decisively breaking our dependence on oil will be difficult.  Anyone who has had to break a destructive habit -- including me, a former smoker -- can tell you the desire to change by itself is not enough.

Moving away from petroleum toward our destiny as a clean-energy leader will demand political courage and individual self-sacrifice.  It will require national determination and discipline.  It will tax our patience and test our wisdom, knowing that dramatic change will not happen overnight.

But courage, self-sacrifice, determination, patience and wisdom are part of the very fabric of our nation.

The founding founders risked certain death to reject imperialist rule and create a democratic state that remains the envy of the world.  A generation of determined young men stormed the beaches of Normandy to defeat a brutal totalitarian regime bent on global domination.  The best minds of our nation pioneered space travel, pushing the boundaries of technology past the fear of the unknown.

Our time is now.  We can not afford hesitate.  As your president, I will do everything I can to lead this nation through uncertainty and difficult times to embrace our destiny as a clean-energy leader.

If we do this -- if we show the world how we used a large-scale challenge to transform ourselves yet again -- the rewards will resonate for generations to come.  Our economy will be secure, invulnerable to threats in the world oil supply.  Our nation will take a decisive step away from global warming -- caused by the consumption of fossil fuels -- towards a restoration that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren can rely on.  We will start on a path that the rest of the world is sure to follow.

And history will define this time not as one in which a careless, deadly oil disaster ruined a portion of our country, but one in which our country rallied around an oil disaster and changed the world. Again.

May God bless you, and God bless America.  Goodnight.

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