Administration Deploys Defense of Oil Spill Response

Posted May 2, 2010 at 11:29am

With President Barack Obama traveling to the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, the administration deployed top officials to all of the major news talk shows to reinforce the theme that the federal response to the catastrophic oil spill has been as prompt and effective as possible.

On several programs, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar disputed the notion that the oil spill is becoming “Obama’s Katrina” a reference to the disorganized and ineffective response to the 2005 hurricane that became a public relations disaster for President George W. Bush.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Napolitano said “this has been all hands on deck,” and Salazar added, “From day one, we have been on top of this.” On ABC’s “Meet the Press,” Adm. Thad Allen, the Coast Guard commandant who is now in command of the spill response, said the incident — an April 20 well explosion that became a submerged leak — “kind of revealed itself over time.” He and Napolitano said several days passed before the government implemented a plan to burn off the oil not because of bureaucratic delays, but because the wind would have blown the smoke ashore. “The weather has not been our friend in this,” Napolitano said.

Salazar said that with thousands of wells operating safely in the Gulf, there is no plan to stop oil production there, but he indicated that the administration will want to get a clearer picture of what happened at the BP rig before approving any new offshore drilling.

Obama was lifting off for Louisiana even as his lieutenants were making the rounds of the talk shows, and he is expected to be on the ground in the affected area Sunday afternoon.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) backed up the administration on “Face the Nation,” saying that the government “understood the seriousness” of the situation when an explosion rocked the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, causing oil to gush into the Gulf of Mexico.

“I know the federal government has leaned forward since day one,” she said. “But obviously it’s not enough on any part — not at the federal at the state or BP and we all have to do better.”

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), who also appeared on “Face the Nation,” said BP’s response to the crisis was far slower than it needed to be in order to save Louisiana’s profitable wetlands.

“As a general body moving forward they have not moved as quickly and as expeditiously as we would have liked them, [but] all our opinions are subjective,” he said. “They feel they are moving forward at a good clip. A good clip to them, for us — Sen. Landrieu and I — is not fast enough and has not been effective enough.”

Melancon said BP should heed the advice of the fishermen and local officials who are assisting in the cleanup and not second-guess their recommendations.

“It is imperative that they respond and respond as we tell them rather than question what we are asking,” Melancon said. “We know the land, those fisherman know the land, they know the waters they can get the job done. We need to depend on them. It’s their livelihood at stake.”

Landrieu reiterated her belief that Gulf Coast states that are exposed to the risks of offshore drilling should benefit with revenue sharing from the oil produced in the Gulf.

“Our delegation has been asking for over 25 years for this government and our nation to understand that this may be 100 percent of the nation’s oil but right now it’s 100 percent our risk,” she said. ” Right now we have been begging and pleading and making the strongest case possible for revenue sharing so we can make our marshes stronger [and] so we can invest in better research.”

Melancon added that safety needs to be the first priority for the government as officials determine whether to issue permits for future drilling projects.

“Our government needs to get somewhere in between ‘drill baby drill’ and ‘spill baby spill,'” he said.