President Outlines Plan for the Gulf; Congress Members Push for Accountability From BP and Government

Back from his latest trip to the Gulf, President Obama outlined his plan for handling the recent oil spill, as well as his goals for the country’s energy ambitions, in an address to the nation Tuesday evening.

The complexity of stanching the flow into the Gulf waters aside, the president’s plan for the region falls into an orderly three stages: clean the up the spill, assist the affected communities and seek a strategy to “make sure that a catastrophe like this never happens again.” He also committed BP to footing the bill.

“We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused,” the president said. “Tomorrow, 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.”

The president also found opportunity in the oil spill, saying the crisis provided an impetus to cure what he called a “century-long addiction to fossil fuels,” as well as a chance to provide the economy and industry with a much-needed boost. President Obama explained not only the financial benefits of such a program, but also the need to act quickly: “Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny,” he said.

Congress members advocating for accountability and action from both the government and BP emphasized that Obama must go beyond rhetoric and take firm steps to change the way oil companies operate. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is pushing for BP to take responsibility for its devastating mistaking, urged the president to keep the pressure on.

“When he meets with BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward, President Obama must ensure that BP commits to establishing a special account – administered by an independent trustee – that will be used to pay economic damages and clean-up costs,” Brown said in a statement following the president’s speech. “Taxpayers should not be on the hook for BP’s irresponsibility.”

The president’s speech comes the same day the House Energy and Commerce Committee excoriated oil industry executives for failing to prepare adequately for issues besides profits. After comparing the disaster plans for ExxonMobil, Chevron Corporation, ConocoPhillips BP America and Shell Oil Company, Rep. Henry A.Waxman (D-California) said the companies were uniformly under-prepared and said the emergency plans amounted to “paper exercises.”

“Like BP, three other companies include references to protecting walruses, which have not called the Gulf of Mexico home for 3 million years. Two other plans are such dead ringers for BP’s that they list a phone number for the same long-dead expert,” said House Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey. “The American people deserve oil safety plans that are ironclad and not boilerplate.”

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) also weighed in, noting that ExxonMobil’s emergency plan was unique in that it had a media-relations component that included “13 detailed, pre-drafted press releases for almost any occasion.” Among the pre-written statements, Stupak said six “are ready to express that they ‘deeply regret’ an outcome while two more press releases stand ready to express ExxonMobil is ‘deeply saddened.'” The ExxonMobil media plan also directed representatives to say, “We comply with all applicable laws and regulations and apply reasonable standards where laws and regulations do not exist.”

The oil executives, however, said they should not be judged by BP’s behavior. Chevron CEO John S. Watson claimed his organization was prepared not one to handle a disaster, but to prevent one, using the Macondo well as an example.

“Our internal review immediately following the Deepwater Horizon accident confirmed what our systematic ongoing review tells us: Chevron’s drilling and control practices for deepwater wells are safe and environmentally sound,” he said.