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Obama Draws Bipartisan Criticism for Using Oil Spill to Push Energy Policy

Obama Oval Office Speech

June 15, 2010: President Obama speaks from the Oval Office on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

President Obama is drawing bipartisan criticism for using the BP oil spill to revive an energy regulation bill that's been on the back burner since last year, with lawmakers saying the so-called "cap-and-trade" package does nothing to stop the leak or mitigate the damage. 

Obama, trying to take control of a crisis that has slowly eroded support for his administration, addressed the nation from the Oval Office Tuesday night to rally support for his efforts to tackle the spill. He pointed to the relief efforts already underway and said the government would hold BP responsible. But later in his 18-minute speech, he turned to focus on the need to "seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels" and tout Democrats' climate legislation. 

"We can't afford not to change how we produce and use energy, because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security and our environment are far greater," Obama said in the first Oval Office address of his presidency. 

While the president was taking the long view, lawmakers said that's not the kind of response Gulf residents suffering immediate economic and environmental damage need. 

"If my house is on fire, I don't need the fire chief telling me I should not have built the house out of wood. I need somebody to put the fire out," Republican Alabama Gov. Bob Riley told Fox News on Wednesday. "We have a crisis here. ... Last night, we were going through again the same type of rhetorical persuasion that the president is very good at, but not now." 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was quoted by The San Francisco Chronicle saying, "the climate bill isn't going to stop the oil leak." Stopping the leak should come first, she said. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he agrees with Feinstein and that the energy policy proposed by Obama will not help Gulf residents in the near-term. 

"What they're doing here in effect is holding the Gulf hostage to a national energy tax," he told Fox News. 

The speech came 57 days after the April 20 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers and sparked the crisis, in which millions of gallons of oil already have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The speech also served as a prelude to Obama's meeting Wednesday with BP executives at the White House. Obama plans to press executives to set up an escrow account to pay economic damages to Gulf residents. 

In his speech, Obama called on all Americans to contribute to "a new future that will benefit all of us." He used similar language to kick-start action on his health care overhaul last year. 

"As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of good, middle-class jobs, but only if we accelerate that transition," Obama said. "Only if we seize the moment. And only if we rally together and act as one nation -- workers and entrepreneurs; scientists and citizens; the public and private sectors." 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Tuesday praised Obama's comments on his energy agenda. 

"I firmly believe that a diverse energy strategy will help our nation reduce pollution, create millions of clean energy jobs that can never be outsourced and lower our dependence on oil," Reid said in a written statement. He said he looks forward to passing a bipartisan energy bill this year and urged Republicans to work with Democrats on the issue. 

The climate bill most likely to pass the Senate is one sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Kerry, D-Mass. They said on Tuesday that their bill will save energy and create jobs. 

"It will create 440,000 additional jobs annually through 2020 and 540,000 additional jobs through 2030," Kerry said. 

Lieberman said one analysis shows the plan would save 2 million barrels of oil a day by 2030 -- in part by getting heavy trucks to run on natural gas. He said that inaction at this point would lead to sustained dependence on oil and "risk repetition of what's happening in the Gulf today." 

But Republicans were outraged that climate change legislation would be discussed in the same breath as the Gulf oil crisis. 

"Instead of leveraging this crisis to manufacture knee-jerk political support for cap-and-trade energy taxes, President Obama should focus on providing the people of the Gulf with real and honest solutions to this horrible environmental disaster that this administration has been slow in waking up to," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said in a written statement.