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Federal, state and BP officials feud over spill response

By Juliet Eilperin

GALLIANO, La.--Two Cabinet members and half a dozen senators came to Louisiana on Monday to highlight the administration's determination to address the ongoing spill in the Gulf of Mexico, even as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) questioned why federal officials weren't doing more to contain the oil now reaching the state's shores.

During a press conference here, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar emphasized they were pushing BP to cap the well and stop the oil flowing into the gulf.

"We are going to stay on this and stay on BP till this gets done, and it gets done the right way," Napolitano said.

Although top administration officials have changed their tone slightly -- on Sunday, Salazar warned that if BP doesn't do enough to stop the leak the government would "push them out of the way" to do the job itself -- the approach they outlined Monday resembled what they've said for weeks: They would press BP to address the spill, and press for full financial compensation from the company.

"The administration has done everything we can possible to push BP to stop the spill and contain the impact," Salazar said. "The fact of the matter is this is a BP mess. It is a horrible mess."

BP officials, for their part, suggested Monday that the federal government could take over spill operations if it wanted to do so.

"I don't know of anything else we could do but if the government felt there were other things to do it is clearly within their power to do that," BP Chief Operations Officer Doug Suttles told reporters on a telephone conference call.

Instead, officials said they would defer to BP when it came to staunching the oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico. When asked by reporters about BP's effort to shut off the leak Tuesday by engaging in what's known as a "top kill" procedure, Napolitano replied, "We hope it works, but we don't want to hope unreasonably."

Meanwhile, Jindal -- standing at the same podium with the two secretaries and half a dozen senators, complained federal authorities had deferred too much to BP in the course of conducting the response. Oil has now reached nearly 70 miles of Louisiana's coasts, an area, Jindal noted, "more than the seashore of Delaware and Maryland combined."

"It is clear that we don't have the resources we need to protect our coasts," he said. "This oil threatens not only our coast and our wetlands, this oil fundamentally threatens our way of life in southeastern Louisiana."

In Port Fouchon, multicolored snare boom resembled seaweed after becoming soaked in oil; response workers dressed in protective suits dutifully cut the contaminated boom, threw it in the trash and began laying down a fresh line of defense.

Even the "boudin" bags -- the large, sand-filled cloth bags that were placed on the beach years ago as a form of hurricane defense -- were slowly degrading in the oil's wake.

"The oil's just coming over them, and on top of them and through them," remarked Lafourche Parish spokesman Brennan Matherne.

Both Jindal and Vitter complained that President Obama had not done enough to expedite federal approval for the dredging and construction of barrier islands to block the oil from coming onshore.

"The greatest inadequacy of the federal response [is] the inability to set a timely, positive response to the crucial barrier island plan," Vitter said.

Jindal also complained the state had not received enough boom to guard against the oil, and needed Coast Guard officials with decision-making authority on the ground so that they could direct the spill response operations more quickly.

Napolitano said federal authorities had agreed to deploy more Coast Guard officials on the front lines. She refused to say whether the administration would approve the state's barrier island construction plan, saying it "is on an expedited review process" and federal officials were also looking at alternative options.


Juliet Eilperin

 |  May 24, 2010; 3:38 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Rahall demands NOAA hand over environmental documents | Next: Feds instruct BP to decrease its use of dispersants

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