Obama To Address Off-Shore Drilling

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Following the devastating Gulf oil spill, President Obama is expected to announce new rules governing off-shore drilling Thursday. He will also make the case for greater investment in solar energy. Obama visits the Gulf tomorrow.

DAVID GREENE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

As BP began its latest attempt to stop the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico yesterday afternoon, President Obama had this to say.

President BARACK OBAMA: We will not rest until this well is shut, the environment is repaired and the cleanup is complete.

MONTAGNE: BP says it all seems to be going well with what's called a top kill, which involves pouring mud down into the well to plug up the leak. We won't know until later today at the earliest whether this top kill does the job.

In the meantime, the president is stepping up his response to the oil spill, both with reassurances and new announcements.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now to talk about that. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What is the president expected to say when he holds a press conference later today?

LIASSON: Well, the president is going to talk about the conclusion of that 30-day review that he asked for. He's going to say there are going to be new, tougher safety and inspection requirements in place for off-shore drilling.

The big news is that the moratorium he announced on deepwater off-shore drilling is going to continue for six months while the independent commission that he appointed tries to figure out what needs to be done to prevent a catastrophe like this from ever happening again.

Also he'll announce that planned exploration off the coast of Alaska is going to be delayed. That means that Shell Oil, which was going to begin exploratory drilling this summer on some Arctic leases, will not be able to go ahead, and some of those leases were as far as 140 miles offshore. He'll also announce that a number of other oil leases off the coasts in different parts of the country will be cancelled.

MONTAGNE: And the president is going down to the Gulf Coast tomorrow. Would it be fair to say that that is in part because he's taking heat for not being out in front of this spill, or not being tough enough on BP?

LIASSON: Well, this is going to be his second trip to the coast in a month. He has been taking a lot of heat. Polls show that the public is getting increasingly frustrated, not only with BP's inability so far to cap the well, but with the federal government's response.

The president has been criticized for not going to the memorial service for the oil rig workers the way he did for the West Virginia miners, for not being able to say how much oil is leaking out of the well, even though, as the White House points out every day, they have a Nobel Prize-winning physicist in the cabinet.

You've also got the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, complaining that he's not getting the resources for the containment operation from the government that he needs.

And the president needs to figure out a way to show that he's engaged and on top of this, even when so much of this catastrophe - in particular the effort to cap the well itself - is completely out of his control.

MONTAGNE: And Mara, yesterday the president was in California. He spoke at a solar panel factory. Is it politically feasible for him to use this crisis - I mean bad as it is, with these deaths and all - to push for alternative energy in the upcoming energy bill?

LIASSON: Yes, I think it's politically feasible and I think he is doing that. Yesterday in California he talked about this. He said it's going to be many years before the country can move away from its dependence on fossil fuels to alternative sources of energy, but we need to start investing now.

He talked about how China and Germany are way ahead of us in the race to dominate the energy technology business. He said the spill shows how unsustainable the increased costs and risks of this kind of exploration is.

Now, whether he can actually get an energy bill passed is a whole other matter, because having expanded off-shore drilling in that bill was thought to be a way to get Republican support. But now that whole political equation has now been called into question, if not broken completely.

MONTAGNE: Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Mara Liasson.

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