Under heat that it's simply not motivating enough resources to deal with the increasingly catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf, the administration insisted -- yet again but with a bit more vehemence -- on Monday that its options in handling the crisis are limited.
"To push [the responsible party] BP out of the way would raise the question: Replace them with what?" said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen when asked why a company that caused the spill and has proved inept at solving it remained in charge.
Allen punctuated his quote with a shrug -- waiting a few seconds for his questioner to answer the rhetorical retort. The fact that he was in the briefing room at all was a reflection of an apparent sense of despair and frustration that has crept into this White House. More than a month after BP's Deepwater Horizon rig began leaking oil at an alarming rate, little progress has been made.
In light of the lethargy, a number of environmental activists, political observers and even strategists within the Democratic Party have begun demanding the the president get more active (whether in appearance or substance). And there has been more discussion that, under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the federal government actually has an obligation to take over the response should it be determined that the spill is "of such a size or character as to be a substantial threat to the public health or welfare of the United States."
But Allen kept beating back suggestions that the government Isn't already playing an active role (it is the adviser and manager of BP's technicians, he noted) and that further involvement won't yield results.
"I'm not a lawyer," he stressed, when ask if the legal purview exists for the feds to sweep in. "That may be true but it wouldn't be my recommendation... they have the means of production, they have logistics in place... we are jointly operating out of their command post in Houston. Everyone who has a stake in the fight is there. I'm satisfied with the coordination that is going on."
"As it stands right now, at least in my opinion," he concluded, "the means of production are in the hands of BP. They just need to do their job."
Calling the spill an "unprecedented anomalous event," Allen said that he had talked with other industry executives to weigh their opinions of how the spill should be handled. Unanimously, he said, they agreed with what BP has done so far.
"When I have the CEO of a large oil company and drilling company saying they would follow the same sequence of events, that tells me there isn't anything to gain by [by replacing BP with them]," Allen said.
The one permanent solution that could resolve the crisis, as Allen understood it, would be for BP to drill a relief well in the same area that would take pressure off of the spill. But that would take until August to finalize -- a timeline that is as politically untenable as it would be environmentally catastrophic. In the meantime, authorities are attempting to siphon off oil leaking from the surface out through a tube, in addition to piling mud on the source of the leak in a ploy to essentially suffocate its flow.
The Coast Guard commandant called it an "insult to the environment" that oil is on the water. But while his frustration with BP could be read between the lines, he vigorously refused to publicly bash the oil company.
"If there is [a blame game going on], I'm not playing it," he sharply insisted at one point.