Obama address light on details for Gulf crisis 

Portraying the BP oil spill in warrior terms as a "siege" to be fought on the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama offered a general plan with few new specifics for the battle.

In his first Oval Office address, Obama detailed his administration's response to the disaster, much of it already in place, and called for the passage of comprehensive energy legislation.

"Make no mistake:We will fight this spill with everything we've got for as long it takes," Obama said. "We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused."

Much of the strategy Obama laid out is already known: An independent team of experts assessing the spill, a moratorium on offshore drilling, the reorganization of the Minerals Management Service and a national commission to study safety and environmental issues.

"We have to recognize that despite our best efforts, oil has already caused damage to our coastline and its wildlife," Obama said. "And sadly, no matter how effective our response becomes, there will be more oil and more damage before this siege is done."

New initiatives include authorizing 17,000 National Guard troops to help with cleanup in the coastal states and the appointment of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan.

In detailing what he called a "battle plan," Obama stopped short of calling for a carbon tax on emissions, as many expected, and also declined to put a price tag on an escrow account he is calling on BP to establish to offset claims from coastal businesses and residents.

"I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness," Obama said.

Democratic leaders in Congress have called for a $20 billion account, and Obama wants it administered by a third party. BP officials told lawmakers they will pay legitimate claims but have yet to commit to the escrow plan.

The president Wednesday is expected to raise the issue in a meeting with BP officials, including embattled CEO Tony Hayward, who has become the face of the company's widely reviled handling of the disaster.

But with his own crisis management under critical scrutiny -- and finally necessitating the politically weighty setting of an Oval Office address -- the president's own message was at times muddled and indirect.

"What has defined us as a nation since our founding is our capacity to shape our destiny -- our determination to fight for the America we want for our children," Obama said. "Even if we're unsure exactly what that looks like, even if we don't yet know precisely how to get there, we know we'll get there."

The House passed an energy bill last year, but the measure remains stalled in the Senate. Obama said "now is the moment" to put legislative weight toward diversifying beyond fossil fuels.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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Julie Mason

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Sunday, Sep 14, 2014

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