- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2010

President Obama traveled to Louisiana for a firsthand glimpse of efforts to contain the massive oil spill off the coast there, and the administration deployed Cabinet secretaries for a Sunday media blitz as the White House sought to combat accusations of a slow response to the disaster.

Mr. Obama and other administration officials were vigorous in detailing federal assistance efforts to contain the spill, which was caused by an explosion of a BP-owned offshore oil rig that killed 11 people on April 20.

Although Mr. Obama did not make his first public statement on the situation until nine days later, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano dismissed comparisons to the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina, saying Mr. Obama has been on top of the situation since “Day One.”

“I think that is a total mischaracterization,” Ms. Napolitano said on “Fox News Sunday” of any similarity to Katrina. “What happened is the situation itself evolved. The situation evolved from an explosion and a search-and-rescue mission to, several days later, the actual sinking of the rig.”

In a public statement from Venice, La. - just miles from the offshore explosion - Mr. Obama said it’s been “all hands on deck” at the White House and listed in exhaustive detail the federal government’s assistance efforts, which include the dispatching of Pentagon aircraft to spray the oil slick with dispersant chemicals and SWAT teams to inspect oil platforms.

Napolitano, Salazar defend federal response to spill
Oil spill grows, with little success in stopping flow

“From Day One we have prepared and planned for the worst, even as we hoped for the best,” a rain-soaked Mr. Obama told a small group of reporters. “And while we have prepared and reacted aggressively, I’m not going to rest … or be satisfied until the leak is stopped at the source, the oil on the Gulf is contained and cleaned up, and the people of this region are able to go back to their lives and their livelihoods.”

But Mr. Obama cautioned that it will ultimately be BP that’s on the hook in terms of the responsibility for the cleanup as well as the cost.

On Sunday’s political talk shows, BP’s chairman said the spill happened because of “a failed piece of equipment” called a blowout preventer that is supposed to seal off the well’s geyser of oil in the event of an accident.

Lamar McKay told ABC’s “This Week” that he couldn’t say when the well will be plugged and it likely will take about a week for a 74-ton metal-and-concrete box to be placed over the well, on the ocean floor a mile below the surface.

In addition to meeting with federal commanders on the ground in Louisiana, Mr. Obama met with Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has expressed concern over BP’s “ability to respond” to the spill.

On Saturday, Mr. Jindal, a Republican, said the spill threatens “our way of life in Louisiana.”

On Sunday, federal government severely restricted fishing in the Gulf of Mexico waters off Louisiana and elsewhere, dealing a major blow to the commercial and recreational fishing industry, which is worth $2.4 billion per year to Louisiana alone.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “is restricting fishing for a minimum of 10 days in federal waters most affected by the BP oil spill, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida’s Pensacola Bay. The closure is effective immediately,” NOAA said.

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