PROVIDING INFORMATION AND ANALYSES OF ANIMAL ISSUES IN LOS ANGELES
WHY IS BP STILL IN CHARGE?
WASHINGTON — Days after the Gulf Coast oil spill, the Obama administration pledged to keep its "boot on the throat" of BP to make sure the company did all it could to cap the gushing leak and clean up the spill.
But a month after the April 20 explosion, anger is growing about why BP PLC is still in charge of the response.
"I'm tired of being nice. I'm tired of working as a team," said Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana.
"The government should have stepped in and not just taken BP's word," declared Wayne Stone of Marathon, Fla., an avid diver who worries about the spill's effect on the ecosystem.
That sense of frustration is shared by an increasing number of Gulf Coast residents, elected officials and environmental groups who have called for the government to simply take over.
In fact, the government is overseeing things. But the official responsible for that says he still understands the discontent.
"If anybody is frustrated with this response, I would tell them their symptoms are normal, because I'm frustrated, too," said Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen.
"Nobody likes to have a feeling that you can't do something about a very big problem," Allen told The Associated Press Friday.
Still, as simple as it may seem for the government to just take over, the law prevents it, Allen said.
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After the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, Congress dictated that oil companies be responsible for dealing with major accidents – including paying for all cleanup – with oversight by federal agencies. Spills on land are overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, offshore spills by the Coast Guard.
"The basic notion is you hold the responsible party accountable, with regime oversight" from the government, Allen said. "BP has not been relieved of that responsibility, nor have they been relieved for penalties or for oversight."
He and Coast Guard Adm. Mary Landry, the federal onsite coordinator, direct virtually everything BP does in response to the spill – and with a few exceptions have received full cooperation, Allen said.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was even more emphatic.
"There's nothing that we think can and should be done that isn't being done. Nothing," Gibbs said Friday during a lengthy, often testy exchange with reporters about the response to the oil disaster.
There are no powers of intervention that the federal government has available but has opted not to use, Gibbs said.
Asked if President Barack Obama had confidence in BP, Gibbs said only: "We are continuing to push BP to do everything that they can."