BP oil spill pollutes Obama energy speech

June 16, 2010

The United States needs a long-term change in its energy policy. Right now, it needs oil to stop gushing from the broken BP well into the Gulf of Mexico. Barack Obama tried to tie long and short together in his first Oval Office address. But the White House will struggle to get Americans to focus on the future as long as the spill continues.

The president certainly gave it his best shot. He argued that the BP  mess is more like a persistent epidemic than a one-time natural disaster. The moral of the analogy is two-fold. First, America must be patient in dealing with the oily mess in the Gulf. Second, the disaster should encourage a national shift away from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy.

But for the American people, the future sure looks a long way away. A government panel announced the same day as Obama’s speech that as many as 60,000 barrels of oil are flowing into the Gulf every day. That’s double last week’s projection and way above the early estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.

It is almost two months since the explosion which started the leak, but Obama could not offer a quick solution. There were only plans for cleanup, including harsh words on how BP will pay, and prevention — and a potential clean energy future.

The president’s green dreams may turn into a nightmare if Republicans smash the Democrats in November’s congressional elections. The spill, which is slowly eroding the president’s popularity, makes such a rout ever more likely.

Still, some polls suggest a national willingness to make economic sacrifices for the sake of kicking the oil addiction. And the first step need not be too expensive. A new study from the Environmental Protection Agency shows that one proposed energy bill, which includes a carbon emission trading scheme, would cost the average American household only about $100 a year.

So Americans might be amenable to the president’s long term message — after the crisis is over.

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