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Obama speech on BP oil spill a call to action for clean energy

Obama's speech Tuesday night on the BP oil spill gave the president a platform to urge a 'national mission' to create a 'clean energy future.' The address was long on big picture and short on detail.

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With nearly one-third of Obama’s 17-minute speech devoted to long-term energy reform, critics complained that the president gave the immediate crisis short shrift and provided no new details. He repeated his assertion that the US will make British energy giant BP, the company behind the disaster, pay for the damage. And he reminded viewers that the US is requiring BP to put money aside to compensate workers and business owners who have been harmed “as a result of the company’s recklessness.” Obama did not mention figures, but Senate Democrats have discussed a $20 billion escrow fund.

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BP and US officials have already been negotiating the terms of the fund, including who would be eligible for compensation. BP objects, for example, to paying the lost wages of oil workers sitting idle due to the administration’s six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling. On Wednesday, Obama will hold a closely watched meeting with BP executives, including the company’s chairman, at the White House.

BP responded positively to Obama’s speech, saying the company shared the president’s goal of cleaning up the oil and helping those affected. Regarding the White House meeting, the company said it anticipated “a constructive discussion about how best to achieve these mutual goals.”

Some pundits commented ruefully that if BP was happy with Obama’s speech, then the president had failed. But presidential scholars counsel perspective.

“What everybody wants from him may be more than is realistic to expect,” says Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas, Austin. “People want a chapter-and-verse battle plan, right down to the crossed t’s and dotted i’s, with deadlines, and that is just unrealistic. It’s the classic presidential dilemma, exaggerated by emotions.”

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