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Obama on Oil Spill: The Government’s in Charge

Facing criticism that the administration has given BP too much control over the response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama asserted that the government is in charge and is taking all necessary action to end the crisis.

“The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort,” he told reporters at a press conference at the White House just now. “Make no mistake: BP is operating at our direction.”

But he criticized “the oil industry’s cozy and sometimes corrupt relationship with government regulators,” referring to close ties with the Mineral Management Service, the Interior Department office responsible for overseeing oil and gas development. “This oil spill has made clear that more reforms are needed,” he continued. He highlighted the decision to split MMS, but he initially made no mention of today’s announcement that the head of the service is stepping down. In response to a reporter’s question about whether she resigned or was fired, he said, “I found out about her resignation today. … I don’t know the circumstances in which this occurred.”

Obama noted that the government gave BP approval to use a procedure called Top Kill to plug the spewing oil hole, but he chose not to discuss the move’s apparent success in halting the flow of oil. Instead, he treated the situation as a continuing crisis that requires the collaboration of the country’s top experts, including, he pointed out, the Nobel Prize-winning secretary of energy, Steven Chu.

He also took a tough line against BP, promising that the oil company will be fully responsible for compensating the affected populations along the Gulf Coast. “We will demand they pay every dime for the damage they’ve done,” he said. “We’re not going to abandon our fellow citizens.”

As a result of the spill, Obama said, the government will take several measures to clamp down on offshore drilling, including the suspension of two proposed oil exploration locations off the Alaskan coast.

Environmental advocates have long hoped that Obama wouldn’t let this crisis — in the words of Rahm Emanuel — “go to waste.” Today, he used the disaster to urge the Senate to pass energy and climate legislation. “If nothing else, this disaster should serve as a wakeup call that it’s time to move forward on this legislation,” he said.

The president will be traveling to Louisiana tomorrow for the second time since the spill began.

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