Obama Raises Profile of Gulf Restoration in Primetime Speech

Scientists know that the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon well is just the latest affliction for coastal wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico. So they were pleased when President Barack Obama last night pledged a new, long-term effort aimed at repairing what he called "decades of environmental damage" to the region. "I see this as a real opportunity," says Denise Reed, a coastal geomorphologist at the University of New Orleans.

No details have been released, but the effort will likely build on an interagency effort that the White House Council on Environmental Quality began in March. The goal is to create a "road map" and vision next year for how federal agencies should be restoring the wetlands.

The new approach would be much broader. In the speech, his first from the Oval Office, Obama said the plan should be designed not by the federal officials but by the gulf states, tribes, businesses, and other stakeholders. Given this array of interests, says Reed, it won't be easy to settle the many tradeoffs involved in restoration. "What I'm expecting here is some leadership to make sure that we don't take forever to agree."

Obama said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former governor of Mississippi, will lead the effort. Oceanographer Robert Twilley of Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, welcomed the choice of a high-ranking Administration official. "This is the closest we've been to the president on this," he says.

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