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Unflappable no more

President Obama shed his customary unflappability Friday to decry the "ridiculous spectacle" of industry executives trying to evade their responsibility for the expanding Gulf oil spill.

The president's frustration reflects the failure to stanch the gushing oil three weeks after the rig exploded and the growing prospect of severe environmental and economic damage to the Gulf of Mexico and the states that border it.

While Obama criticized BP, Transocean, which operated the rig, and Halliburton, which poured cement at the site, he also denounced the "cozy relationship" between oil companies and the federal Minerals Management Service, which dispenses drilling leases and collects the revenue from them and is also supposed to regulate the operations.

But the agency routinely allowed drilling without having companies get required permits from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which assesses environmental risks. It also routinely overruled its staff biologists and engineers who raised concerns about safety and environmental impacts.

While the Bush administration's lax approach to industry regulation was well-known, the Minerals Management Service has, since Obama took office, approved at last three big lease sales, 103 seismic blasting projects and 346 drilling plans without getting required permits.

The president's ire at the Gulf oil mess is well justified. He has an obligation to remedy the problem -- to see that the leak is plugged, ameliorate the environmental damage and the economic dislocation to coastal residents and make the negligent industries foot the bill -- and impose policies to forestall a repeat of this disaster.

But in holding all involved to account, Obama must also include his administration, which for too long continued that same "cozy relationship."


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