Owning the spill
May 28, 2010
If President Obama’s press conference yesterday was designed to calm growing public concerns over his administration’s mishandling of the Gulf oil spill, it didn’t work.
BP’s deep-water oil rig exploded and oil began gushing into the Gulf on April 20.
Within days, over-eager critics began describing the response to the spill as “Obama’s Katrina.”
That was partisan overstatement.
But, 38 days later, the spill has become the worst in US history — and ham-handed administration incompetence has now reached such levels that the “Obama’s Katrina” trope has begun to resonate.
Yesterday, for example, the president assured the nation that his administration is on top of the crisis. Yet, bizarrely, Obama also said that he didn’t know the details of the departure that morning of Elizabeth Birnbaum, head of the Minerals Management Service, the oil regulatory agency.
Was she fired? Did she resign?
“I don’t know,” he said.
Taken at face value, that’s just weird: A head finally rolls — and the president doesn’t know the details?
More likely, Obama was dissembling — but, if so, that’s not reassuring, either.
Maybe more to the point, the president said he retains “confidence” in Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — the fellow whose foot-dragging on emergency measures urgently being sought by Louisiana officials is fomenting anger there.
On Wednesday, Salazar told a House committee that Louisiana’s request to build sand barriers to protect marshes threatened by oil was still “under consideration” — nearly two weeks after Gov. Bobby Jindal made the request.
Obama yesterday finally gave the go-ahead to build the sand barriers — but only for half of the 86 miles requested.
That’s hardly reassuring to the people of Louisiana — who have already been forced to close three beaches.
It’s not fair to blame Washington for the oil leak, or even for BP’s slowness in plugging it.
But minimizing the damage most definitely is Washington’s responsibility — and, so far, the administration has failed to measure up.