Obama Talks Tough on Oil Spill

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President Obama blasted oil company executives today for ducking responsibility for the spill still gushing crude into the Gulf of Mexico. “I did not appreciate what I considered to be a ridiculous spectacle,” Obama said of the Congressional hearings this week. He unloading on the chiefs of BP, Transocean and Halliburton for “falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else. The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn’t,” he said.

Obama also slammed the Minerals Management Service, the government regulatory agency responsible for issuing drilling permits, for its “cozy relationship” with the companies it is charged with overseeing. (Adam and Joe have already linked to Ian Urbina’s damning story on their performance, but it’s worth reading if you haven’t yet.) The President promised a “top to bottom review” of the agency. “It seems as if permits were too often issues based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies. That cannot and will not happen anymore,” he said. “To borrow an old phrase, we will trust but we will verify.”

During the short, tense Rose Garden presser, Obama cataloged efforts to contain the spill, which include laying more than 1 million feet of boom along the shoreline, and made an appeal for Congress to consider a legislative package that includes raising the cap on damages companies can pay, assistance for local citizens affected by the disaster and funding for additional inspections. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska objected to a voice vote request yesterday, blocking the measure.

Based on video of the gusher 5,000 feet below the surface, scientists have revised their estimates of the accident’s severity, with an NPR analysis finding the spill may have 10 times worse than initially thought. Obama made no attempt to conceal his frustration with the difficulty of mounting an effective response to the gusher. “Clearly the system failed,” he said. By adopting a sharper tone, Obama has channeled the country’s mounting frustration with the haphazard, inadequate response to stanching the leak. Whether taking a tough line will help insulate his Administration from blame — and how much it should actually bear — are separate matters.