Obama Starts to Address Offshore Hazards and Calls for Clean Energy Action

I applaud President Obama’s announcement today that he is extending the moratorium on offshore drilling and calling a time out on lease sales off the coast of Alaska. These are forceful steps that will help protect America’s marine life and coastal communities in the immediate aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

President Obama is right to impose the moratorium on deepwater drilling until the independent commission completes its investigation into the BP oil disaster. But the moratorium should cover shallow water drilling as well. Last summer, a blowout occurred in Australia at a water depth of just 240 feet. It took 10 weeks to drill a relief well and the oil spread over thousands of square miles.

The president is right to cancel planned lease sales in the western Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia. And he is right to delay planned drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the coast of Alaska.

But the President should go further. An oil spill in the fragile Arctic waters could be even more devastating than in the Gulf. Cold temperatures would make it almost impossible for oil to disperse and broken ice would make it difficult to clean up. There is much we don’t know about drilling in these conditions, and NRDC recommends delaying any drilling in the Arctic for several years while thorough study is done. We can't afford to gamble the future of this region on the promises of an industry that has so thoroughly failed us thus far.

The President is also right to strengthen government oversight of the oil industry and issue new safety regulations. Again, though, more needs to be done to address the welter of problems--inadequate regulation, uneven enforcement, close ties between regulators and industry--that led to this disaster in the Gulf.

Even as the President begins to address the hazards of offshore drilling, we must also focus on the root cause of the tragedy in the Gulf.

We can blame BP for the disaster, and we should. We can blame lack of adequate government oversight for the disaster, and we should. But in the end, we also must place the blame where it originated: America’s addiction to oil.

BP was drilling at 5,000 feet because our gluttonous appetite for oil demands it. It is the same force that powers destructive tars sands oil development in Alberta and feeds two wars overseas. Until we change this reality, there will be more blowouts, more devoured landscapes, and more soldiers lost on the battlefield.

President Obama can lead us in a cleaner future--one where American workers do the job of producing more fuel efficient cars and designing better public transit systems.

The President has taken several strong steps recently. On Friday he announced new cleaner vehicle standards for cars and heavy trucks. And at today’s press conference, he urged Congress to pass clean energy and climate legislation, saying: “If nothing else, this disaster should serve as a wake up call that it’s time to move forward on this legislation.”

I look forward to the President continuing to press the case for legislation at every opportunity.

Americans feel sickened by watching the Gulf of Mexico get destroyed. They want to see the disaster clean up and to create a future where this kind of tradeoff is no longer necessary. President Obama can guide the way.