Barack Obama has sought to harness public outrage over the BP oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico to push for the US to break its "addiction" to fossil fuels and make the switch to renewable energy.
Dedicating the bulk of his oil spill speech on the need to develop green energy, the US president said the American people "must seize the moment" and "accelerate the transition".
"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," he said on Tuesday, calling for a national mission to "unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny".
"One of the lessons we've learnt from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling," he said in his address to the nation, as the BP oil spill entered its 57th day.
"But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource."
He hailed a bill passed in the House of Representatives last year to curb pollution blamed for global warming, but stopped short of directly calling for the senate to pass a similar bill.
Environmental group Greenpeace welcomed Obama's call to congress and the American people to get behind sweeping energy and climate change legislation.
John Hocevar, a clean energy advocate with Greenpeace, told Al Jazeera from Grand Isle in Louisiana, one of the focal points of the BP spill, that reliance on offshore oil was a risky business.
"I do commend the president for putting this issue to congress and his plans to forward to see an end to our addiction to oil. But his speech contained very nice rhetoric, but not a whole lot of detail."
Hocevar said it was disappointing that the US was still going ahead with drilling in the Arctic.
"If we can't handle a spill in the Gulf … with all the resources we have out there, there's no way we could handle a spill in the Arctic."
In his nationally televised speech, Obama said China was investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should have already existed in the US.
Saying that the US spends nearly $1bn a day on oil imports, Obama said the transition to clean energy had the potential to spur economic growth and create millions of jobs, "but only if we accelerate that transition".
"Only if we seize the moment … And only if we rally together and act as one nation, workers and entrepreneurs, scientists and citizens, the public and private sectors."
He said the US could not afford "not to change how we produce and use energy" because the long-term costs to the economy, national security, and environment were great.
Critics, however, said Obama's speech fell short of a strong call for comprehensive energy and environmental legislation this year and left the US congress with no clear direction.
Michael Steele, the chairman of the opposition Republican party, accused Obama of exploiting the spill crisis for his own political gain.
|The oil spill continues to threaten wildlife, the ecosystem and the Gulf states' economy [EPA]
Steele said the US president's actions demonstrated his inability to lead Americans out of a disaster and showed an "appallingly arrogant political calculus".
He said Obama should instead focus on providing what he called "real and honest solutions" to those affected by the spill.
There was also criticism in Louisiana where fishermen have been put out of business by the massive oil spill but oil workers are also reeling from a six-month moratorium on offshore drilling imposed by the Obama administration.
Charlotte Randolph, the president of LaFourche Parish in Louisiana, told Al Jazeera the suspension of offshore drilling only served to compound the economic difficulties.
"I did not hear what I wanted to hear from the White House. I asked the president personally to reconsider his proposal on a moratorium on offshore drilling, and he would not.
"My impression of the speech is that he would sacrifice some Americans to further his agenda, and he is sacrificing the people and the parish I lead."
Randolph said the 33 oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico that will be shut down following Obama's order were not BP rigs, and that Louisiana's history with drilling "has been a fairly safe one".
"I trust BP as a company, but yes, we need to diversify and seek alternative fuel. However, it took a hundred years to get where we are now and it's not going to happen overnight.
"This is something that will require infrastructure changes and it will take trillions of dollars to change."