Question: What powers does the President of the United States have in regards to stopping oil leaks over a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico?
Answer: None. Believe it or not, the President is not Superman. I am inclined to mention Superman as he is probably the only individual that could stop a mile-deep gusher with a failed blowout preventer like the Deepwater Horizon leak.
There is this strange assumption out there that the President could, I don’t know, FIX THIS, or DO SOMETHING, or RESPOND, as if he could use his charisma to persuade the well into submission, or if his words could calm our fluttering little hearts and tell us that it’s all going to be ok. Some of this criticism is just cheap political nonsense; the rest, though, seems to be rooted in a genuine ignorance of how the crushing water pressure below 5,000 feet in the Gulf of Mexico is not conductive to such generic whining. There is nothing Obama can do about this leak except protect the shoreline as much as humanly possible, provide technical advisers and funds as necessary, and hope for the best. And that’s what he’s done. A Republican president – a Tea Party President, even – would be just as powerless.
I don’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually kind of trust that the recovery arm of BP is doing everything it can to cap the well – namely, because it is not in BP’s best interest, either profit-wise or survival-wise, to turn the Gulf of Mexico into a oil slick. Like all corporations of a certain size with tentacles in so many areas, BP can be trusted to act in a somewhat schizoid manner; parts of it will be risky and reprehensible and parts of it will be cautious and responsible. I would wager, though, that BP survives this incident, though it will suffer significant political and legal penalties.
Oil drilling is an inherently risky business, even on land. If America wants oil, especially domestic oil, it will have to accept occasional incidents like this one, and their environmental effects.