SAN FRANCISCO — With the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico fouling waterways, wildlife and beaches, President Barack Obama is expressing deepening concern about the failure to plug the five-week old leak.
Obama called the situation “heartbreaking.”
“When this happens on your watch, then every day you are thinking how does this get solved,” he told a Democratic fundraiser in California Tuesday night.
The seemingly unstoppable gusher has created not only an environmental catastrophe but also poses political problems for his administration. The White House is being criticized even by Democrats for not acting more aggressively in the spill. The administration argues that government officials aren’t just watching from the sidelines, but also it acknowledges there’s just so much the government can do directly. Obama could suffer politically if his administration is seen as failing to stay on top of the problem or not working hard to find a solution.
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With the spill calling into question his plans to expand offshore drilling, Obama looked to highlight the benefits of alternative energy sources.
Obama was to tour Solyndra Inc., a solar panel manufacturing facility in northern California, where he also planned to speak to workers about how expanding the clean energy sector can create jobs and aid the nation’s economic recovery.
The president has long said renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar, will play a vital role in the nation’s energy future. He is asking Congress for $9 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy projects, a request that would be tacked onto a multibillion-dollar spending bill for Afghanistan and other programs.
But Obama has also moved to expand offshore drilling, recognizing the practical reality that the U.S. dependence on oil will continue for many years, and the political reality that more drilling could help him win Republican support for a broad-ranging energy bill.
The expansion Obama announced in March allows drilling from Delaware to central Florida, plus the northern waters of Alaska. Exploration could begin 50 miles off the coast of Virginia by 2012. He also wants Congress to lift a drilling ban in the oil-rich eastern Gulf, 125 miles from Florida beaches.
But those projects are in limbo following the oil spill, which is dumping millions of gallons of oil into the waters near the Louisiana coastline, confounding experts in the government and at BP, the company which holds the lease for the rig that exploded and sank April 20.
The White House has said no new drilling will occur until the causes of the accident are thoroughly examined. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is due to deliver a report to the president Thursday.
At the Solyndra plant, the president planned to reaffirm his earlier assertions that the spill only reinforces the need to find alternatives to oil.
The White House says Solyndra is one of the most successful investments made as part of the president’s $826 billion economic stimulus. The company received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Energy Department last year to help build a new manufacturing plant, a project that now employs 1,000 workers.
The company estimates the construction project could create up to 3,000 jobs, and as many as 1,000 permanent jobs when the facility opens.