Udall defends Obama oil-spill speech, calls it another sign of change

Colorado U.S. Senator Mark Udall downplayed criticism of President Obama’s speech on the Gulf disaster last night and said he was heartened to see the president speaking authoritatively on the matter and that the speech was one of several moves in the last week indicating that a different and better approach by the U.S. government toward the oil industry would come of the catastrophe.

Obama said he had mobilized 30,000 personnel and 17,000 National Guardsmen to help with the spill, that he would increase research an development into safer technologies and that he would move to bring about a new energy environment. He said that Colorado’s Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior, would speed up efforts to reform the Mineral Management Service agency, whose lax oversight likely contributed to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and unstoppable leak.

“Secretary Salazar and I are bringing in new leadership at the agency: Michael Bromwich, who was a tough federal prosecutor and Inspector General. His charge over the next few months is to build an organization that acts as the oil industry’s watchdog, not its partner.”

Critics including MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews lamented the lack of specifics provided by the president. They asked how he planned to put into effect his ideas and noted that he failed to speak to coming so-called cap and trade or climate change energy legislation and the kinds of new regulations that might be put in place to protect citizens from oil industry disasters.

Udall told the Colorado Independent that Obama was more than clear on his expectations and on who he is putting in charge.

“The critics fire away but the president’s job is to move forward, acknowledge the lessons that have been learned and force BP to put the money aside and make a long-term commitment that we’re going to clean up the Gulf and re[vive] these ecosystems and economies.

“The accident is truly painful,” Udall said, conjuring images of oil-drenched wildlife. “His decision to ensure that the administration is overseeing the clean-up long term and to hire a strong watchdog to oversee the Minerals Management Service are the right steps to take. I’m particularly pleased that the president is not going to let up pressure on BP. I agree taxpayers should not be stuck with the bill. We need to make sure BP Pays.”

On Monday, Udall along with members of the Senate Democratic Caucus sent a letter to British Petroleum urging the company to set aside $20 billion to pay for damages and clean-up costs incurred from the leak. BP responded to the letter by taking steps to put aside the money, according to CNN.

Udall said oil will remain an important energy source for many years to come. “We can not let anything like this happen again, though,” he said. He noted that, as the Colorado Independent reported yesterday, he was introducing legislation to retool an existing program to steer funds towards researching and implementing safer drilling technology.

Udall said continued reliance on oil posed national security and economic risks that could be alleviated if the U.S. worked to become the leader in the new energy market.

“We need to make the investments in clean energy, including gas and nuclear, and we need a national renewable standard like the one we have in Colorado” to provide real incentive, he said.

Udall said that like China, the United States should find a way to put a price on carbon that does not hurt consumers. “The whole point of putting a price on carbon is we send a signal to our powerful market economy that this is something that is going to be valued.”

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