Political problems from oil spill may stick to Obama 

Facing pressure to better manage the still-gushing BP oil disaster, the White House is demanding the oil giant better account for how much is spilling and what the environmental effect will be.

Lawmakers and environmentalists have claimed BP is low-balling how much oil is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, and some are beginning to suggest the federal government is complicit.

"The notion of a cover-up is ridiculous," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. "[BP is] responsible, they get the bill, the taxpayers won't, and it's being overseen by ... many elements of the federal government."

But as the uncapped well off the coast of Louisiana continues to spew oil into the ocean one month after the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded and sank, increasingly frustrated politicians are looking around for who to blame.

President Obama angrily declared last week that the long-standing "cozy relationship" between the federal government and big oil companies had allowed lax oversight of offshore drilling an safety.

But now, having put his administration in the role of overseeing BP's response, Obama is feeling heat over the lack of progress in capping the well as a massive environmental crisis gathers just offshore.

On Capitol Hill, oil executives are the new bankers, getting hauled in to testify and feeling the hot political wrath of lawmakers in the grip of an election season.

Some in Congress are linking the disaster to the policies of the Bush administration, while others are calling BP Obama's Hurricane Katrina.

"It's all kind of absurd, because there is plenty of blame to go around," said Frank Maisano, an energy policy expert at Bracewell & Giuliani who has been attending BP hearings in Congress.

"There is a really serious issue here and a challenge we have to deal with and address," Maisano said. "Pointing fingers and blaming people isn't going to get the well stopped and figure out what happens next and how to meet our future energy needs."

The Democratic group Americans United for Change started a new television ad called "Dirty," highlighting the spill and blaming Republicans linked to the oil industry for blocking clean-energy legislation.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, are calling on the Obama administration to take a greater role in managing the crisis in the Gulf, rather than leaving the reporting and cleanup to BP.

"The Gulf of Mexico is a crime scene, and the perpetrator cannot be left in charge of assessing the damage," said Larry Schweiger, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation.

BP has been claiming the spill, about 5,000 feet below the surface, is totaling 210,000 gallons a day. Some scientists have estimated the true amount could be double.

Having taking at least partial ownership of the crisis, the Obama administration is redoubling efforts to crack down on BP, sending a letter to CEO Tony Hayward complaining that his promises to provide complete and timely information on the spill "have fallen short in both their scope and effectiveness."

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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