A fudgelike goo coating Louisiana’s marshes. A thick oil slick stretching across the Gulf of Mexico. A plume of oil miles below the ocean surface. A tragic loss of life. Reverberating economic consequences. Throw in a poll that shows that 53 percent of Americans rate President Barack Obama “poor” or “very poor” in his handling of the Gulf oil spill, and it’s no wonder the President yesterday broke his 308-day self-imposed press conference moratorium in hopes of conveying some semblance of leadership amid an environmental, economic and human catastrophe that has spiraled out of his control.

But if Americans were looking for signs of leadership from their President yesterday, they were disappointed. What they got from President Obama was a glimpse of a White House in total disarray, where one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing and where there are more questions than answers. At 12:45 PM EDT yesterday, President Obama stood before the country and did his best to convey one clear message regarding the oil spill – the federal government is in control and that he will hold BP to account. Obama said:

The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort … BP is operating at our direction. Every key decision and action they take must be approved by us in advance.

Unfortunately for the President, he couldn’t maintain that message for the duration of his 63-minute press conference. When it came time to questions, he admitted that the federal government just doesn’t have what it takes to keep the oil spill under control.

What is true is that when it comes to stopping the leak down below, the federal government does not possess superior technology to BP … Now, when it comes to what’s happening on the surface, we’ve been much more involved in the in-situ burns, in the skimming. Those have been happening more or less under our direction, and we feel comfortable about many of the steps that have been taken.

A lack of technology? More or less in control? Not exactly confidence inspiring. Nor was the President’s admission that he did not know whether the director of the Minerals Management Service had resigned or been fired. And in the end, President Obama declared:

In the meantime, my job is to get this fixed. And in case anybody wonders — in any of your reporting, in case you were wondering who’s responsible, I take responsibility

From total control, to lack of control, to personal responsibility – that’s heck of a mixed message. What will President Obama do with that responsibility? For one, he announced a halt to all new offshore drilling and called for the United States to move toward “investing in renewable source of energy” in order to “accelerate the competition with countries like China.” And he also warned that “easily accessible oil has already been sucked up out of the ground.”

The truth, though, is a different story. Unlike us, China is pursuing increased offshore drilling for oil, including deep-sea oil development. And for all the President’s talk about China’s alternative energy push, the reality is that China’s dependence on coal is actually growing. As Heritage’s Derek Scissors writes:

Coal now provides 70 percent of the PRC’s energy and almost 80 percent of its electricity, with both figures higher than they were a decade ago. These shares may barely shift for decades to come.

As for the President’s claim that easy to access oil is becoming more scarce, Heritage’s David Kreutzer notes that “billions of barrels of ‘easily accessible’ oil have been turned into ‘impossible to access’ oil by federal regulations and moratoria that block any access.” That’s oil off the coast of California and 10 billion barrels of oil in ANWR.

To be sure, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster. BP must bear the economic costs of cleaning up its mess and the cause of the spill must be found. But now is not the time for President Obama to turn an environmental tragedy into an economic disaster.  Stopping all new oil development will inflict higher energy costs on average Americans and result in millions of net job losses for a country already suffering under a 9.7% unemployment rate.

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