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Spill responsibility

An "angry and frustrated" President Obama held a rare news conference Thursday to emphasize his commitment to stopping the Gulf oil spill, now confirmed by U.S. scientists as the worst in the nation's history.

"I take responsibility," Obama said, "It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down. That doesn't mean it's going to be easy. That doesn't mean it's going to happen right away or the way I'd like it to happen. It doesn't mean we're not going to make any mistakes. But there shouldn't be any confusion here. The federal government is fully engaged and I'm fully engaged."

The president's remarks marked a shift in tone from earlier administration pronouncements, which put prime responsibility for dealing with the disaster on BP, the operator of the rig that exploded five weeks ago. But Obama said, "Make no mistake, BP is operating at our direction. ... Every key decision and action they take must be approved by us in advance."

Responding to criticism that the government could have allocated relief resources faster, Obama said it had dispatched 20,000 people, 1,300 vessels and 3 million feet of boom to contain and clean up the spill.

He admitted mistakes, though, mainly in failing to act quickly enough to reform the Minerals Management Service, the agency widely derided for its lax regulation and overly cozy relationship with the oil industry. Its head, Liz Birnbaum, resigned under pressure Wednesday.

Obama also said that he was naïve to believe that "the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios." That lesson should guide the administration as it considers new leases after the six-month moratorium Obama announced Thursday expires.

The oil industry -- not the government -- has the expertise to extract oil and to deal with catastrophes. Going forward, Washington's duty is to ensure that the oil companies meet those responsibilities.


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