The Obama press conference is ongoing, but the big headline from the early going is the president’s announcement of sweeping new limits on offshore drilling, a whiplash reversal of the administration’s tentative support for expanded offshore drilling in the weeks before the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The president announced that he has ordered the following:
–Suspend planned exploration of two locations off the coast of Alaska.
–Cancel pending lease sales in Gulf and Virginia.
–Continue existing moratorium and suspend new permits for deep water wells for six months.
–Halt action on dozens of wells currently being drilled in the Gulf.
Obama said he did not regret calling for the limited expansion of offshore drilling, but added that he was “wrong” in his belief that oil companies “had their act together” on planning for worst-case scenarios. He also said that easily accessible oil supplies have been exhausted, and that future drilling operations will be inherently more risky.
“That’s why you never heard me say ‘drill, baby, drill,’” Obama said.
Whatever the reality on the ground, the president also publicly took ownership of the Gulf spill response. “The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort,” Obama said. He later added that the response has been his “top priority” from day one, and that he has had more meetings on the topic than on anything since his Afghanistan review.
On Governor Jindal’s request for federal support to build a system of artificial barrier islands to stop oil from reaching shores, Obama said the administration “moved quickly” to assess the effectiveness of that proposal. More than two weeks after Jindal made the initial request, Obama today announced that construction could move forward one section of barrier.
When asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd to give his take on comparisons between his administration’s handling of the Gulf spill and former President Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Obama deferred.
“I’ll leave it to you guys to make those comparisons. . .because what I am spending my time thinking about is how do we solve the problem,” he said.
“I’m confident that people are going to look back and say that this administration was on top of what was an unprecedented crisis.”
Barack Obama said he didn’t know the circumstances under which the head of the Minerals Management Services resigned today.
Asked if it was fair to shift blame to the Bush administration for the supposedly cozy relationship between the oil industry and its MMS regulators, when the current administration has issued many of the same environmental waivers it is now criticizing, Obama said that “house-cleaning” under Interior Secretary Ken Salazar began on day one, but that “there wasn’t sufficient urgency in terms of the pace in which those changes needed to change place.”