Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sharply criticized the Bush administration Saturday for refusing his request to declare a pre-emptive federal disaster for California's fragile levees.

President Bush offered California some aid Friday, issuing a rare directive letting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers help with badly needed levee repairs.

"I think the response that the federal government has given us is unacceptable," the governor told reporters at an Earth Day event on a San Pedro beach. "We need the federal government to come in and help us so we can build the levees as quickly as possible."

Schwarzenegger said the state would begin strengthening the levees in June regardless of federal help.

"We're not going to wait for their response," Schwarzenegger said. "We have seen what happens in New Orleans when people waited for the federal government. Their response was terrible there and we don't want to be a victim of that."

The pointed remarks came a day after the governor met briefly with Bush in San Jose during the president's trip through California. During the meeting, Schwarzenegger repeated previous requests for the disaster declaration.

Bush's chief environmental adviser, James Connaughton, said Friday that the kind of declaration Schwarzenegger sought required that a disaster already occurred.

Pre-emptive disaster declarations have never been issued except when a catastrophe was imminent, he said.

Bush's directive allows the Corps of Engineers to accept $23 million in California money for repairs on 29 critically weak levees. Connaughton said more money is likely to flow to California in the future, contingent on congressional action.

Meanwhile Saturday, the governor ripped oil companies for soaring gas prices, and promised to take action if his administration finds price gouging has occurred.

A gallon of regular gasoline has increased to well over $3 a gallon at many California pumps.

"I think it's outrageous the way the oil prices are going up," he said. "We're starting to investigate to see if there's any price gouging going on. If there is I think we will step down really heavily."