White House advisers acknowledged on Thursday that a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could force the president to reconsider plans to open coastal areas to offshore drilling. But they suggested that no revision in policy would be announced in the immediate future.
In a briefing with the press, key members of the Obama energy, homeland security and press team stressed that their focus remains, at this point in time, on blunting the impact of the BP oil spill -- which was designated with the label: of "national significance."
"I think our focus, frankly, is on this particular matter," says David Hayes, a deputy secretary of the Interior.
"We need to stay focused on the incident," said Carol Browner, Obama's climate and energy adviser.
Questions, however, persisted as to whether or not the White House is having doubts about offshore drilling, to which Browner replied that there would be "ample opportunity for public input" and that the spills would "obviously" become "part of the debate."
As of now, however, the White House gave little indication of concrete policy changes in the immediate future.
"There is no one thing that can be done to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, from an environmental, from a national security, or from an economic standpoint," said Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. "If there was one thing, rest assured, somebody would have done it likely in a previous administration. That is why we have taken steps to increase clean energy jobs, wind and solar investment, wind farms, and the president does believe we have to increase domestic production. But understand the process that the president announced was the beginning of that process because there are a host of legal things that need to happen."
Later in the day, at an event honoring the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, the president himself addressed the spill and underscored the resources the administration was putting behind the increasingly difficult cleanup operation.
"The Department of Interior has announced that they will be sending swat teams to the gulf to inspect all platforms and rigs," he said. "And I have ordered the Secretaries of Interior and Homeland Security as well as Administrator Lisa Jackson of the Environmental and Protection Agency to visit the site on Friday to ensure that BP and the entire U.S. government is doing everything possible not just to respond to the incident but determine its cause. And I have been in contact with all the governors of the states that may be effected by this accident."
Reflecting how complicated the crisis has become, Obama then jokingly urged the teachers seated before him at the Rose Garden to offer potential solutions of their own.
"I'm sure there may be a few science teachers here who have been following this issue closely with their classes and if you guys have any suggestions please let us know," he said.
Earlier, at the press briefing, Gibbs re-iterated that BP would be covering the cost of cleaning up the damage done both to the gulf and the coast. Authorities, he added, are still investigating the cause of the spill and government agencies are overseeing BP's cleanup effort (there are more than 1,000 people working on the situation)
The spill is expected to hit the shore, he said, "likely later tomorrow afternoon."