The president got something absolutely right in his address tonight: the need for strong government oversight over industry. Since Ronald Reagan the conservative governing philosophy has been that all government is bad. But, as President Obama noted tonight, government could have been and should have been a positive influence over BP. Instead, regulations were lax and those in charge corrupt:
Over the last decade, (the federal Minerals Management Service) agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility — a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves. At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations.When Ken Salazar became my Secretary of the Interior, one of his very first acts was to clean up the worst of the corruption at this agency. But it's now clear that the problems there ran much deeper, and the pace of reform was just too slow. And so 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.
So one of the lessons we've learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling. But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world's oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world's oil reserves. And that's part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean — because we're running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America's century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked — not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny.
The lesson over the need for a strong and engaged government can be applied to more than just off-shore drilling. This current crisis should serve as evidence that the conservative philosophy of limited government (even libertarianism) is a failed philosophy even as it is advanced today by many in both political parties but particularly but the GOP and their tea party allies. You would have thought the lesson would have been learned after the economic collapse in 2008 (caused by lax oversight of Wall Street) but the Republican Party is running in 2010 on a return to the governing style of George W. Bush. We're still paying the price for his presidency today.
President Obama, who has more on his desk than any president since FDR, needs to make passage a real priority. An opportunity exists for a lot of good to come from this tragedy.