"His charge over the next few months is to build an organization that acts as the oil industry's watchdog -- not its partner," the president said of his choice to head the agency that has been criticized for being too close to the oil companies it was supposed to be regulating.
The president used the Oval Office address to show how the ongoing environmental catastrophe exemplifies the nation's need to pursue a clean-energy future. Roughly a quarter of the speech was devoted to a push for the need for the United States to shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energies and the president said he will call for Congress to aggressively accelerate that transition to a clean-energy future
"The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight," Obama said. "Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude. "
The president said the disaster serves a larger lesson: that oil is a finite resource, and we're running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water, so a more comprehensive approach to energy independence is needed.
"For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered," Obama said, "The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean-energy future is now. "
To critics who argue that the costs of that change are too high, the president said they are short-sighted.
"I say we can't afford not to change how we produce and use energy -- because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater," he said
Obama largely stayed out of specifics -- briefly mentioning that the House of Representatives has acted by passing a "strong and comprehensive" energy and climate bill. But he did not mention the battle currently being waged in the Senate over similar legislation.
Additionally he did not reiterate his call for putting a price on carbon emissions, even though a senior administration official briefing reporters in advance of the president's remarks said he "absolutely" still believes this is the way forward.
As he has done in the past the president called on Democrats and Republicans to offer their ideas and approaches to help wean the nation off its dependence on fossil fuels.
"But the one approach I will not accept is inaction," he said. "The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is too big and too difficult to meet."
With a pristine beach and clear water as his backdrop, Obama said earlier today that perceptions and fears about oil in the water -- even in some unaffected areas -- are harming local businesses.
"When you look out over this unbelievable beach, one of the things that you can see is that, so far at least, this beach has not been affected," the president said from the Fish Sandwich Snack Bar in Pensacola, Florida, following a morning briefing on the oil spill from Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen. "But there are obviously fears about the oil that is offshore."
Earlier the president walked the beach with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist amid shouts of "save our beach" from locals gathered in the area.
Tonight the president vowed to make things right for the local business owners affected by the spill.