President Obama says the federal government will continue to provide resources in the wake the massive oil rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana. "My administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially the Department of Defense to address the incident," he said in remarks in the Rose Garden Thursday.
But he acknowledged that the operator of the rig, BP PLC is the responsible party, echoing a sentiment expressed by members of his administration earlier in the day when Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and department heads briefed White House reporters on the situation.
Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, BP is liable for the damages stemming from the explosion and subsequent spill, which is expected to reach the coastline by Friday.
The law was enacted after the epic 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound.
BP has agreed to front the bill, but because of the intense nature of the explosion and the rapid spread of the spill, the company has needed a good deal of assistance. It has tapped local fishermen to help with providing boats and other resources while receiving on-going support from government agencies.
The Obama administration has asked the Defense Department to look into whether it has the equipment and expertise to facilitate in the clean up. The White House says that the Pentagon's technologies may "surpass the capabilities" of the commercial and private sector. "It has become clear after several unsuccessful attempts to secure the cause of the leak that it is time for BP to supplement their current mobilization," said a senior administration official.
Federal agencies say the underground well is spewing 5,000 barrels of oil a day and could continue for another 90 days if the leak isn't contained.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano -- who characterized the incident as a spill of "national significance" -- said the administration has had to deploy resources as if this were a major incident.
David Hayes, the Interior Department's number two, joined the chorus of officials briefing reporters in charging that BP was responsible for the damages, but reiterated that the administration is working with the company to expedite relief efforts and determine the cause of the initial explosion. He stopped short of blaming the company for the accident but vowed that investigators from DHS and the Interior Department would look into BP and other companies operating in the Gulf to assure that they are following regulations. "That joint investigation will have every tool it needs, including subpoena power to get to the bottom of what went wrong," Hayes told reporters.
Because of the rig's location approximately 40 miles offshore, the two agencies have jurisdiction and are able to file criminal action, according to an attorney familiar with maritime law.
Coast Guard Rear Admiral Sally Brice-O'Hara said that BP has taken a number of steps to try and slow the spill, but corrected herself after inadvertently calling the company the government's "partner" in the matter.
"Bad choice of words," she said. Secretary Napolitano was quick to respond that BP was indeed not a partner of the U.S. government in this matter.
Still, the government is working in tandem with BP to limit environmental damages and try and stop the leak, which is progressing faster than initially expected.
President Obama will send Secretary Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to Louisiana on Friday to assess relief efforts. "We will continue to push BP to engage in the strongest response possible," Napolitano said.
"We will continue to oversee their efforts, to add to those efforts where we deem necessary, and to ensure, again, that under the law, that the taxpayers of the United States ultimately are reimbursed for those efforts."