Thursday, June 03, 2010

Another Presidential Address We'll Never Hear

My fellow Americans:

I speak to you tonight about the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As your President, I want to explain as clearly as I can why this spill happened, why it has proved so difficult to contain, and how this event must shape our future energy policies and approach to government and private enterprise.

First, why did the spill happen? Some have argued that BP and other oil companies are too greedy for profit and so take unconscionable risks with the safety of our environment. Those critics fail to realize the enormous liability that BP will now suffer for the damage it has done to the economy of the Gulf. Anyone who has followed BP's stock price since the spill knows that BP would have done everything it could to prevent an event like this, had BP known exactly how to do that. Oil companies know that they will pay out ruinous damages for events like these. That threat to their profits is the most powerful motivation available to restrain the foolishness that greed can engender.

Some have argued that the well was in water too deep for drilling to be practical. Those people have a point: we have many places we can drill that are much less likely to create an environmental hazard like this. That's why I am issuing an executive order to open drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. Those fields offer much easier, safer drilling with less possibility of environmental impact. Perhaps such drilling will allow us to be more careful about drilling in deep water opposite states that are supportive of the oil industry.

However, the truth is that we have a national interest in deep-water drilling. If we are not to rely entirely on dictatorships for our supply of oil, we need enhanced domestic supply. But how can we drill in deep waters when the risks to the environment are so high?

The answer is that we must learn how to drill more effectively, just as we must learn how to manage oil spills more effectively. In this respect, oil drilling is just like every other human endeavor: we learn by trial and error.

Even now, while oil continues to spill into the Gulf, we know more about how to respond to such spills than we knew before this disaster happened. We are learning from this episode just as we learned better techniques for extinguishing oil well fires after Saddam Hussein left Kuwait's oil fields ablaze in his retreat in the first Gulf War. We are learning just as we did with Exxon Valdiz spill or the iconic Santa Barbara oil spill. We are learning just as we did after the two horrible Space Shuttle disasters, just as we did after Pearl Harbor and Bull Run and Bunker Hill, just as humankind consistently learns by making mistakes.

Some say that we don't need to learn anything from this episode except that oil is bad for us. They insist that we must move as quickly as possible from a fossil-fuel economy to a green-energy economy. But I must warn that green energy is not so green. Oil drilling alters the but a tiny fraction of the earth's surface, while green technologies--solar, wind, biofuels, and the like--will require millions of acres to produce what a few oil wells can offer. We will continue to support research into the development of alternative energy sources and to encourage energy conservation with tax incentives, building codes and the like. But let's be honest: fifty years from now, we will still be relying significantly on fossil fuels.

This is my answer to those who argue that federal regulation failed to prevent this spill because regulation was too lax. But let's remember that government regulators are not omniscient. They only know what the present state of knowledge is, and seldom do they know it better than those who work in the industry or who train its engineers in our universities. For those who complain about the close relationship between industry and regulators, I ask what they offer as an alternative. Only experts in the technology of an industry can regulate it. The only source of experts is the industry itself. Do we want our best and brightest engineers working for Washington or working to get the oil out of the ground effectively? Obviously we need a blend of both, and that's exactly what our "revolving door" between government and industry provides.

But still, these experts are human. They make mistakes--out of ignorance, sometimes out of carelessness, sometimes out of mendacity. We will investigate carefully this disaster's causes carefully, not to scapegoat but first to learn how to avoid such events in the future and second to hold to account those whose negligence, if indeed any were negligent, makes them civilly liable or criminally culpable.

But we won't redress some imagined "out of control" industry with more burdensome federal regulation. We may call government employees "public servants," but they are just as fallible as those in private industry--and just as inclined to the pride and selfishness that lead to bad decisions even about those things that we do understand. Anyone who's filled out a tax form understands what I mean.

So in sum, we will not back down from our goal to increase America's domestic oil production. In fact, we are doubling down on that commitment. Further, we are committed to learning everything that we can from this awful event so that in the future mistakes like this will be less likely and less costly. But we will not let this setback deter us from what is right and sensible for our country's future.

Allow me to make a comparison to another recent event. Wednesday night Detroit Tiger Armando Galarraga pitched a perfect game. That is, it would have been a perfect game had umpire Jim Joyce not blown the call of the final out. Joyce himself has admitted the mistake, and Major League Baseball may yet allow Galarraga's feat to enter the record books.

What do we do with a mistake like Joyce's? Should baseball eliminate umpires? Should all calls be reviewed by instant replay, or just those that affect things that go in the record books? We can debate those questions, but it's clear that Major League Baseball and Jim Joyce both have a tremendous opportunity to learn from this event, a one-of-a-kind event to be sure, but one that can inform many more common events that happen on the field.

That's exactly the way we must view the Gulf oil spill. This is a disaster far worse than a blown call in baseball. But it need not--indeed it cannot--deter us from exploring the seas for oil. When this is over, and it will be over soon, we'll know far more about deep-sea drilling and oil-spill management than we did when we began. And we will be able to move forward with more confidence, not less.


Hensel said...

You're right, we'll never hear that address from the president. That is most unfortunate.

JB in CA said...

"[F]ifty years from now, we will still be relying significantly on fossil fuels." You're being way too conservative, here, Mr. President. According to Jerome Corsi, we'll never run out of oil. ( And he should know; he has a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard. He doesn't say exactly how our reserves will never dry up, but I'm guessing it has something to do with Hanukkah.

eoppy said...

is it odd that the voice in my head as i read this was Fred Armisen's from his SNL characterization of Obama?

Tom said...

Addendum to the address:

"Now, some of you may be wondering, despite my call for less regulation, why didn't BP even have a Plan A - much less a Plan B for the spill? I have obtained video from the BP boardroom that I would like to share with the American people. Now, you'll notice that these men smoke too much, laugh too much and get a heavy does of carbohydrates every day, but that is beside the point. It is the audio that I want you to hear."

"Then it's settled, we will drill in deeper parts of the ocean. Who has a lighter?"

A barely perceptible cough comes from the back of the room.

"Yes, you in the back whose name I couldn't come up with if you made it multiple choice and gave me your name 3 out of the 4 tries - you have a question."

"Shouldn't we come up with a series of contingencies, just in case our simple plan of drilling deeper were to go awry? I mean, we have a long history of being well-intentioned, but accidents still happen on drilling rigs. Heck, a whole movie was made about a rig that had an explosion on deck. And then, the oil rig leader was put in a space shuttle and blew up an asteroid, but I digress...."

"By contingency, you mean that we should come up with some plan for a problem, like the U.S. government didn't have an exit strategy after the "liberation" of Iraq and we have been bogged down in an endless operation since 2003?"

"Yes, that's what I'm saying"

Collectively, from the whole table:

"Pass the Cubans down this way. We have some celebratin' to do!"

Cut back to the president...

"Now, I would like to share video of the meeting between federal regulators and BP on the day BEFORE BP started drilling.

What? I can't show it? It looks too much like a pornographic film? Oh...

My point is, my fellow Americans - and I use that term loosely, because I was born in Kenya according to a Sean Hannity last week - that even the dimmest bulb in the drawer knows to have a backup plan when you try something that is a little harder. The only person more clueless besides the BP CEO at this point is Alicia Silverstone. That is what the regulator is for - what the role of government is in a free market - to ask for a plan for just that possibility, to not accept the "trust us" line. It is not the role of the government to dispatch anyone to the area to try and do a better job. We don't have the expertise. The oil companies do, but to date, that claim is theoretical.

Baseball enthusiasts and BP are alike - they both are detached from reality. While Jim Joyce's call is unfortunate, the fact is, the most numbers-obsessed sport in the world, is also the most ambiguous. Much like a golf course, and unlike a football field, a soccer field, a basketball court, or a hockey rink, no two stadiums are alike - each has its own dimensions. The only thing more arbitrary than a strike zone is...debating different eras of baseball. Despite all its flaws, baseball is not bogged down in reviewing umpires calls - yet.

Now, I am going to watch Entourage in my private study before Michelle finds out. Thank you and God bless America."

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Tom, we don't think Entourage is BHO's secret pleasure. More likely, given his preference for imported over domestic thought, is Eurotrash.