The “greatest environmental disaster” in history. The words resounded for weeks on end, like the repeated gong of a giant bell. This superlative description of the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico became the description du jour for those from President Obama and his administration to members of the mainstream news media. In a speech from the Oval Office on June 15, Obama called it “the worse environmental disaster America has ever faced.”
But was the harm to the environment what concerned the administration most? Not as much as the real story about the oil spill: It was a classic case of political frustration with the loss of command-and-control, the essential modus operandi of the Obama administration. It was best exemplified by the threat of Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who said the Obama administration will “keep our boot on the throat of BP” until it stops the spewing oil. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had first used the expression. Obama, no Anglophile, was eager to command the British company. He realized even he couldn’t control nature — as 11th Century English King Canute thought he could by holding back the sea’s tide.
As the environmental catastrophe unfolded on his watch, a befuddled and angry Obama was quoted by senior government officials as crying out: “Plug the damn hole.” According to CNN, Obama on May 27 told the news media, “The federal government is fully engaged, and I’m fully engaged.”
At this May 27 press conference, he took this question from the AP’s Jennifer Loven:
You just said that the federal government is in charge, and officials in your administration have said this repeatedly. Yet how do you explain that we’re more than five weeks into this crisis and that BP is not always doing as you’re asking; for example, with the type of dispersant that’s being used? And if I might add one more: To the many people in the Gulf who, as you said, are angry and frustrated and feel somewhat abandoned, what do you say about whether your personal involvement, your personal engagement, has been as much as it should be, either privately or publicly?
President Obama responded:
Well, I’ll take the second question first, if you don’t mind. The day that the rig collapsed and fell to the bottom of the ocean, I had my team in the Oval Office that first day. Those who think that we were either slow on our response or lacked urgency don’t know the facts. This has been our highest priority since this crisis occurred. (Many believe this stretches credulity.) Personally, I’m briefed every day, and have probably had more meetings on this issue than just about any issue since we did our Afghan review. And we understood from day one the potential enormity of this crisis, and acted accordingly.
While publicly expressing deep concern about the impact on the Gulf states, Obama was apparently so preoccupied with loss of complete control that he also lost the competence to tackle the environmental challenges. As Gateway Pundit and others have pointed out: Obama accepted help from only five of 28 countries that offered aid. It took 53 days of gushing oil before the administration accepted help from the Dutch and British. It took 58 days to mobilize military personnel to the Gulf. Crude oil-sucking barges were shut down because of technical fire extinguisher regulations. The administration ignored oil containment-boom manufacturers that had miles of their product available in warehouses. Dredging for sand berms to block the oil from the Louisiana coast was forbidden for weeks. No skimmer boats were sent to Mississippi’s shore. Florida had to hire added skimmer boats because of federal inaction.
BP was squeezed to finance a $20 billion trust fund to pay claims of those hurt by the Gulf spill, Obama announced June 16 after meeting at the White House with the oil company top executives. As Obama proudly explained: “The $20 billion amount will provide substantial assurance that the claims people and businesses have will be honored. It is also important to emphasize that this is not a cap,” he added menacingly. “The people of the Gulf have my commitment,” CSnews.com reported, “that BP will meet its obligations to them.” BP has assumed responsibility from the beginning. BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told reporters after the White House meeting he wanted to “apologize to the American people on behalf of all BP employees and thank all for their patience.” He also said his company would not pay shareholders dividends this year. Carol Browner, Obama’s energy and climate czar, said the decision to set up the fund was “White House driven.” (Naturally.) And that it would not have been made by BP alone, she indicated.