- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2010

 

The White House said Wednesday the six-month moratorium it has placed on deep-water drilling is a policy decision, not a science decision - drawing criticism from Republicans who say President Obama is violating his campaign vow to avoid placing politics above science.

 

The moratorium, recommended by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a May 27 report, has been panned by the team of engineers Mr. Salazar had review it. Five of the seven engineers said deep-water drilling has a strong safety record and that targeted inspections make more sense than a blanket moratorium.

But the White House stands by the moratorium, saying the government can’t take a chance on another explosion like the one that occurred April 20 on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana. The accident killed 11 workers and created a leak that has gushed millions of gallons of oil into the sea.

“The president has told Gov. [Bobby] Jindal and others, you can’t sit here and tell me, we can’t trust BP to do anything, but we’re going to take their word for it on the four permits that they had drilling in deep water, even as we were dealing with BP’s disaster in the Gulf. The president just wasn’t willing to take that chance,” press secretary Robert Gibbs said, adding that the administration had a “long discussion” about the decision because it knew there would be economic consequences.

That has left Republicans charging that the president is violating his own campaign promise to inject science back into major policy decisions.

“Candidate Obama said he wished to be guided by science, not by politics. The seven or eight engineers he requested from the National Academy of Engineering to review his plan have repudiated this moratorium,” said Rep. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican.

As a slew of polls show a majority of Americans disapprove of the administration’s handling of the spill, Mr. Obama has pulled out all the stops to get out from under the criticism, touring the Gulf for a fourth time this week and holding his first-ever speech to the nation from the Oval Office on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama emerged from his first meeting with BP executives having wrested agreements on setting up a $20 billion independent compensation fund for businesses whose livelihoods have been hurt by the spill as well as a commitment of $100 million that will go toward helping rig workers displaced by his moratorium. The company said it has also decided to suspend dividend payments to shareholders for the rest of the year.

“I’m absolutely confident BP will be able to meet its obligations to the Gulf Coast and to the American people,” Mr. Obama said. “BP is a strong and viable company and it is in all our interests that it remains so. This is about accountability.”

Briefly addressing reporters after the meeting, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg apologized to Americans for the spill and assured them: “We care about the small people.”

On Tuesday, in the first Oval Office address of his presidency, Mr. Obama said he understood the hardship his drilling moratorium is causing, but “we need to know the facts before we allow deep-water drilling to continue.”

The moratorium was one of several recommendations by Mr. Salazar, who said he had run a draft by a panel from the National Academy of Engineering.

But five of the seven panelists said in a letter that their draft didn’t include the blanket moratorium and that the record shows deep-water drilling to be safe. They said the blanket ban is a bad decision.

Story Continues →