Bureaucratic Delays Take Stage in Oil Debate

Posted June 20, 2010 at 10:42am

Updated: June 20, 1:28 p.m.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) joined Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday in criticizing the federal government’s response to the Gulf Coast oil spill, citing a lack of foresight.

“I’m not surprised that the public is dissatisfied with the president and the federal government,” Lieberman said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “That’s because the oil is still gushing, and that’s because neither BP nor the federal government were ready for a spill of this kind.”

Two months after the leak began in the Gulf of Mexico, BP officials say that their most recent containment efforts are capturing almost 1 million gallons of oil a day. But some estimates put the daily flow at more than twice that number, and BP still has about 200 feet to drill before completing relief wells that the company hopes will stop the flow completely.

President Barack Obama recently asked BP to set aside $20 billion in an escrow account to fund the claims of those affected by the spill.

On “Fox News Sunday,” McConnell criticized the administration’s response to the disaster, while also distancing himself from Rep. Joe Barton’s recent apology to BP for what Barton called a $20 billion “slush fund.”

“Of course that’s nonsense,” McConnell said. “I couldn’t disagree with Joe Barton more. BP doesn’t need an apology. They need to apologize to us.”

But the Kentucky Republican added that “the administration has a role to play in this, and they haven’t done a very good job so far.”

The Obama administration, he said, is slow to approve new technologies to help clean the spill.

“If you’re going to advocate expansion of the government, then you look not so good when the government you’re already in charge of doesn’t function very well,” McConnell said.

On “State of the Union,” Lieberman also suggested that the federal government needed a less bureaucratic response, perhaps by putting regulatory responsibilities for drilling under one roof, such as the Coast Guard.

But White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel disputed the criticism that the administration has let bureaucracy and red tape get in the way of the Gulf Coast cleanup. The spill, he said, is “the worst environmental disaster in recent memory.”

“When you’re organizing something like this, there are going to be mess-ups, no doubt about it,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” But, he added, “this has never been done before.”

Emanuel also pointed to the administration’s role in forcing BP to drill a second relief well and ensuring that the current containment process will capture 90 percent of the leaking oil by mid-July.

There are “a lot of things they had to be pushed to do and pushed to do faster,” he said.

Sen. Mary Landrieu also emphasized the government’s role in the cleanup effort on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”

“We’re not just relying on BP to plug this well and to get this job done,” the Louisiana Democrat said, adding that officials are also dealing with a learning curve. “This is like going through something where we’ve never had a fire drill.”

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, agreed that the federal government has “done more right than wrong.”

But he added, “Nothing’s satisfactory until the well’s shut in.”

Members also talked Sunday about BP’s responsibility for paying for the environmental and economic effects of the spill.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, said she will bring up legislation as soon as this week to lift the $75 million liability cap on oil companies following a spill.

“To me, it’s a matter of justice. It’s a matter of fairness,” she said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” adding that companies should not be treated differently from individuals. “If you hurt people, you’ve got to step up and pay for the damage that you did.”

As for the $20 billion escrow account, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said on “Meet the Press” that it is a “lifeboat for people in the gulf.”

Barbour, meanwhile, backed off criticizing the fund, saying he now understands that BP will not have to pay the entire amount up front. Instead, the company will pay $5 billion a year.

That, he said, is a “good compromise” and “good for BP.”