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May 27, 2010

Plugging the Hole

"Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?"

President Obama got asked that question before he even made it to his press conference this morning. His daughter Malia poked her head in while he was shaving.

Kids have a way of getting to the point. It's so basic: First, stop the bleeding.

Unfortunately, for weeks President Obama has been forced to watch in frustration along with the rest of the nation as BP's attempts to stop the gushing oil met with failure. Now, we're waiting to see if the "top kill" effort currently underway will succeed. I hope and pray it does.

But though the president can't (yet) tell his daughter that he's plugged the hole, perhaps he can tell her that he's changed his mind. "I was wrong," he said during today's press conference. He was talking about his belief that oil companies "had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios." (By now I hope he's realized that oil companies don't have their act together about lots of things.)

Today's announcement that exploratory drilling permits would be canceled for the Arctic's Beaufort and Chukchi seas and for Virginia's coast are signs that the president recognizes he was also wrong to accept assurances that the risks from expanding offshore drilling would be minimal -- and wrong to believe that when oil companies throw around phrases like "the highest environmental standards" it actually means something.

"The spill in the Gulf, which is just heartbreaking, only underscores the necessity of seeking alternative fuel sources," the president said during a visit yesterday to the Solyndra solar panel factory in Fremont, California. All along, the president has acknowledged the importance of renewable energy and green jobs to America's future.

But now it's time for him to put it all together. Yes, plug the hole and stop the bleeding. Yes, do everything we can to help the communities and ecosystems of the Gulf respond and recover. But "underscoring the necessity" is something you say in a speech, not a call that will rally a nation. Unless President Obama can seize this moment to commit America to ending its reliance on oil in the next two decades, the real problem will stay unsolved.

The bigger wound will still be bleeding.

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Michael Brune

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