BP oil spill: Louisianans want more from Obama ... but more what?
With Obama in Louisiana Friday to assess the response to the BP oil spill, residents have strong views about what needs to happen next. But their ideas can conflict, and expectations are low.
Arriving in Louisiana Friday to counter increasing criticism of his handling of the BP oil rig disaster, President Obama will find few allies and low expectations in a region still stinging from the government's botched response to hurricane Katrina.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Obama, responding to criticism that his administration was too slow to act on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, declared at a White House press conference on Thursday that “the federal government is fully engaged, and I’m fully engaged.” Asserting that his administration was in charge of BP’s efforts to cap the gushing oil well and contain the spill, the president added that he should have pushed BP executives earlier to provide images of the leak and accurate measurements of the spill's size.
BP executives said for weeks that about 5,000 barrels of oil a day were gushing from the blown wellhead a mile below the Gulf of Mexico’s surface. Independent scientists estimated the spill at possibly more than 10 times that amount. The US Geological Survey reported Thursday that oil is leaking at two to four times the rate of BP's original figure. Under that scenario, the spill, which began drifting onto Louisiana beaches and wetlands last week, has surpassed the amount of oil dumped into Alaska's Prince William Sound by the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and threatens a huge swath of the Gulf Coast.
On Thursday, the president’s critics in Louisiana ranged from long-time Democratic strategist James Carville – a New Orleans resident who railed against what he called the administration’s lagging response – to oil industry veterans who lambasted Obama’s decision to extend a moratorium on drilling permits for six months and suspend planned exploration drilling on 33 wells currently operating in the Gulf.
In Washington, Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) of Louisiana excused himself from a House Energy subcommittee hearing Thursday after breaking down while explaining the crisis facing the region he represents. “Having flown over this disaster, I can tell you it greater than anyone can ever imagine,” said Representative Melancon, who represents six coastal parishes most threatened by the spill. “My constituents are watching a slow-motion tragedy unfold in front of them. Our culture is threatened, our coastal economy is threatened, and everything I know and love is at risk.”
In St. Tammany Parish, parish President Kevin Davis complains that BP maps are not accurately showing the location of giant oil slicks in the Gulf that are threatening Lake Pontchartrain, which abuts New Orleans. Mr. Davis says oil washed ashore on uninhabited Brush Island four days ago, 20 miles closer to Lake Pontchartrain than official maps currently indicate.
“It doesn’t show up on the new maps and we don’t understand why,” says Davis, who estimated that oil could be at the entrance of the lake as soon as next week.