Obama concedes mistakes on oil spill response 

President Obama conceded mistakes but largely defended his administration's response to the BP oil disaster, saying "I take responsibility."

With the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico entering its 38th day, the president called a press conference to respond to a growing clamor from critics who accuse the federal government of bungling oversight of the crisis.

"This notion that somehow the federal government is sitting on the sidelines and for the three or four or five weeks we've just been letting BP make a whole bunch of decisions is simply not true," Obama said.

But the president conceded that the government's efforts "fell short" in, among other things, accepting claims from BP about how much oil was flowing into the ocean.

The energy giant initially claimed 5,000 barrels a day were being released; a government research team subsequently estimated the number is closer to 25,000 barrels a day.

Obama, who earlier this year called for a limited expansion of offshore drilling, announced he will extend a moratorium on deepwater drilling and suspend and cancel other offshore drilling projects, including in Alaska.

At the same time, the president said he still believes domestic oil production must be part of a larger national energy policy. At issue, he said, was failed government oversight of the industry and lax industry safety standards.

"Where I was wrong was in my belief that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios," Obama said.

Expressing empathy with those frustrated over the spill and the government's response, Obama personalized his own reaction to it, saying his daughter Malia asked during his morning shave whether he'd capped the spill, and hearkening back to his own youth on Hawaii, "where the ocean is sacred."

The president said he is fully engaged in the disaster response and thinks of it constantly -- and he demonstrated in some detail his facility with the oil spill vocabulary: Booms, blowout preventers, relief wells and top kill.

But he was largely unfamiliar with the abrupt resignation of Elizabeth Birnbaum, director of the embattled Minerals Management Service. The agency oversees drilling operations and has been the central government scapegoat for safety and other shortfalls in the BP spill.

While Obama said Birnbaum resigned, conflicting reports attributed to administration officials said Birnbaum was fired.

The president has previously alluded to limited oversight of Minerals Management during the administration of former President George W. Bush, and did not back off that claim Thursday, saying similar levels of corruption were not apparent on his administration's
watch.

At the same time, Obama conceded there was not "sufficient urgency" when he came into office in rapidly weeding out the practices that he said contributed to the disaster by allowing oil companies to regulate themselves.

He dismissed a question about claims from Republicans that the oil spill is his administration's Hurricane Katrina -- political shorthand for a disaster eliciting a slow and ineffective government response.

"I'll leave to you guys to make those comparisons," Obama told the press. "I'm confident that people are going to look back and say this administration was on top of what was an unprecedented crisis."

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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