- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Obama administration was on the defensive Monday over its handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, saying the federal government is doing all it can, even though the leak has not been capped, and a new opinion poll showing a majority of Americans doesn’t approve of the president’s management of the crisis.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad W. Allen, who is overseeing the U.S. government’s response, said oil giant BP has the expertise to plug the leak and shrugged off suggestions that the administration should push BP out of the way and take control of the operation.

“To push BP out of the way would raise the question: Replace them with what?” Adm. Allen told reporters at the White House.

More than one month after an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 people and created an environmental disaster, the administration is struggling to convey that it’s doing everything it can to assist in the containment effort while stressing that BP is still legally in charge of the situation.

“We are trying to do everything, as I’ve said, humanly and technologically possible, first to plug this leak and secondly to deal with what has spilled and both the environmental and economic impacts of that oil,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

But in a CNN/Opinion Research poll released Monday, 51 percent of Americans say they disapprove of the way President Obama is handling the crisis, though even more - 76 percent - say they disapprove of BP’s response to the spill.

The leak is complicated by the fact it’s coming from a well 5,000 feet under water, meaning all efforts to plug it are being conducted by remote-controlled vehicles.

Adm. Allen said the ultimate solution will be the drilling of a relief well to take away some of the pressure, but that won’t happen until August. “We don’t want to wait that long,” he said.

On Monday, BP’s operating officer said his firm understands why people are frustrated that the massive leak has yet to be plugged, but insisted it has the resources to do so. He said the company hopes to use heavy cement and mud to plug the leak as soon as Wednesday, following several failed attempts to stop the oil from spewing into the sea.

“We want this as much as anyone,” Doug Suttles said, the Associated Press reported.

Adm. Allen said he is “satisfied” with the coordination that’s taking place between the government and the company, and told reporters that BP executives have been responsive to his requests.

But critics, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, have accused the administration of being too easy on BP. On “Fox News Sunday” this past weekend, the former Republican vice presidential candidate suggested that Mr. Obama is being influenced by the $77,051 in political contributions he has received from the firm’s employees.

Mr. Gibbs hit back at that assertion Sunday by noting Mr. Obama has proposed a windfall-profits tax on oil companies in the past, and mocked Mrs. Palin, saying she should “get slightly more informed as to what’s going on in and around oil drilling in this country.”

On Saturday, President Obama announced the creation of a commission to investigate the explosion, to be headed by former Florida Sen. Bob Graham and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William K. Reilly.

Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a plan to break up the regulatory agency that oversees offshore-drilling permits into three separate parts, arguing that its licensing authority conflicted with the Minerals Management Service’s charge to collect royalties from oil companies. Mr. Salazar and other administration officials have said they plan to move ahead carefully on new offshore-drilling leases once an investigation into the Deepwater Horizon spill is completed.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, has repeatedly criticized the White House and BP, saying his requests for additional resources are not being met. He said 65 miles of Louisiana coastline have already been tarred as a result of the disaster.

• Kara Rowland can be reached at krowland@washingtontimes.com.

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