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Our president, our gulf, the oil spill and what we need to hear

This week, President Barack Obama stepped up to tell us that he is responsible and also in charge, even as all that oil kept pouring into our gulf.

The worst spill in America's history, they finally officially said, though after more than a month of failures and setbacks, we were not all that surprised.

So our president went front and center for a press conference in the face of our frustration at the oil that would not stop, the cleanup still to come and the feeling that no one out there is doing all they can.

He told us how much brainpower is on this. He talked about how many boats, how many feet of boom are in place to keep this disaster from coming ashore. He said he understood all that frustration, said it even as we were learning of signs of a new, 6-mile-wide, deep-water plume.

And the president I respect did a dismal job of reassuring me.

Yes, we heard tough talk about a moratorium, suspended exploration and canceled lease sales, about change and reform and alternative energy. Okay, good.

The president said he was wrong to assume oil companies "had their act together" and were prepared for the worst. Also good to hear acknowledged.

And then he went on to talk about the continuing need for domestic oil.

I just wanted to hear him say: We will fix this. And for him to make me believe it will never be allowed to happen again.

If you turned the page to get away from all the pictures of great clouds of oil and saturated birds, you might have found another story, one about the prospect of a brisk and busy hurricane season staring you in the face.

You can almost laugh — almost — at those who point to natural disasters like storms, earthquakes and erupting volcanos and say, see? That's just like what's happening now. What can you do, right?

They say this as if we did not know the worst that could happen when we drill for oil, as if BP didn't just steal the trophy from Exxon.

They say it like it makes perfect sense to drill in delicate waters that support marine life and fishing and tourism without an effective worst-case plan in place — one that means serious regulation even if it costs big companies big money.

Because those are the other frustrating headlines, the ones about lack of oversight and questionable ties with oil companies. Though much of that culture was cultivated prior to his administration, the president acknowledged his own could have done more. As he said Thursday: "In this instance, the oil industry's cozy and sometimes corrupt relationship with government regulators meant little or no regulation at all."

His critics say — some with a grim satisfaction bordering on glee — that this will be Obama's Katrina, meaning they hope he fails us.

I want them to be wrong. But with every day that ticks past since the Deepwater Horizon blew in the gulf, I've become more afraid they'll be right.

Near the end, the president said this: "I grew up in Hawaii, where the ocean is sacred. And when you see birds flying around with oil all over their feathers and turtles dying, that doesn't just speak to the immediate economic consequences of this. This speaks to how are we caring for this incredible bounty that we have."

And that, at least, was something we needed to hear.

Our president, our gulf, the oil spill and what we need to hear 05/28/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 28, 2010 7:01pm]
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