Obama Administration Tries to Combat Growing Criticism From Right and Left Over Response to Oil Spill
May 5, 2010 - 9:58 PMAmid mounting criticism of its response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration on Wednesday released a day-by-day account of its response to the situation.
“Since the Deepwater Horizon explosion the night of April 20, federal authorities, both military and civilian, have been working onsite and around the clock to respond to and mitigate the impact of the resulting BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico,” Heidi Avery, White House deputy homeland security advisor, said in a statement.
The White House has faced criticism from both the right and the left in addressing the crisis.
“The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an ongoing tragedy, and the American people deserve action to protect our Gulf and they deserve answers,” Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the House Republican Conference chairman said on the House floor Wednesday.
“The American people deserve to know why the administration was slow to respond, why necessary equipment was not immediately on hand in the area and why the president did not fully deploy cabinet-level federal officials until he spoke at the White House on April 28," Pence continued.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called Pence “badly informed.”
“There was an explosion on April 20 that was responded to by the Coast Guard looking for those who had been injured and those who were missing,” Gibbs told reporters. “The morning after the explosion, [Interior] Secretary [Ken] Salazar deployed Deputy Secretary [David] Hayes to the region to assist in the coordination and response and provide hourly updates to Secretary Salazar about what was happening. On the 22nd, the president convened a meeting in the Oval Office with all of those involved. There is an 18-page document on our Web site about all that was done. What exactly response did Mr. Pence find lacking?”
On the left, a New York Times editorial on May 1 said the BP spill was a bigger disaster than the Exxon Valdez.
“Now we have another disaster in more or less the same neck of the woods and it takes the administration more than a week to really get moving,” the Times editorial said. “The timetable is damning.”
“The blowout occurred on (Tuesday) April 20. In short order, fire broke out on the rig, taking 11 lives, the rig collapsed and oil began leaking at a rate of 40,000 gallons a day. BP tried but failed to plug the well,” the Times opined. “Even so, BP appears to have remained confident that it could handle the situation with private resources (as did the administration) until Wednesday night (April 28), when at a hastily call news conference, the Coast Guard quintupled its estimate of the leak to 5,000 barrels, or more than 200,000 gallons a day. Only then did the administration move into high gear.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also weighed in: “We also know that it took eight days for federal government to deem the spill a disaster of ‘national significance’ and fully devote federal resources to the problem,” Gingrich wrote in a May 5 Human Events column.
“Last week, Louisiana lawmakers, including Gov. Bobby Jindal, pointedly criticized the federal government’s slowness in committing quantifiable resources to containing the spill.”
The Interior Department exempted BP’s Gulf of Mexico drilling operations from an environmental impact analysis, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. One assessment from the Minerals Management Service said the agency estimated a large oil spill would not exceed a total of 1,500 barrels and would not reach the coast.
Another assessment by the MMS, a division of the Interior Department, said a large spill would produce only 4,600 barrels and would dissipate in 10 days.
BP employees contributed $87,901 to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A reporter asked Gibbs for a response to any suggestions the support in the campaign correlated with the exemption from the environmental impact analysis.
“That’s silly and ridiculous,” Gibbs said.
The White House released its assessment as a way of trying to show the public it was quick to act.
“We have compiled this chronology in the spirit of transparency so the American people can have a clear understanding of what their government has been and is doing to respond to the massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster,” Avery said.
According to the White House documents:
-- President Obama was notified on April 20 of the explosion, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) two Coast Guard cutters and four helicopters went into action.
-- Deputy Secretary of Interior David Hayes went to the Gulf Coast to oversee BP’s response. The Department of Interior also begins to investigate the matter. On April 22, the president convened a principal level meeting.
-- On April 26, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar directed an inspection of all deepwater rigs to be concluded in two weeks. By this time there are more than 30 response vessels, 48,384 gallons of oily water recovered and more than 1,000 personnel responding.
-- The next day, Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announce a joint investigation into the cause of the explosion.
-- The controlled burning began on April 28, while Salazar traveled to BP Command Center in Houston to review the company’s response.
-- Obama did not mention the oil spill during his May 1 weekly address, focusing instead on the need for new campaign finance reform laws. But on Sunday, the president visited the Gulf Coast.
Napolitano and Salazar hosted a conference call with Gulf Coast Govs. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Bob Riley of Alabama, Rick Perry of Texas, Charlie Crist of Florida. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal met with Obama.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the White House assessment said, 200 response vessels have been deployed, 1 million gallons of oily water have been recovered and 7,500 personnel are responding.