Oil Spill Response: Investigations and Political Cover

Yesterday we saw the Obama administration take some aggressive steps on BP's Gulf Coast Oil spill. President Obama appeared in the Rose Garden to announce an investigative commission headed by former Florida Sen. Bob Graham and former EPA Administrator Bill Reilly, saying in his announcement that...


We have an obligation to investigate what went wrong and to determine what reforms are needed so that we never have to experience a crisis like this again.  If the laws on our books are insufficient to prevent such a spill, the laws must change.  If oversight was inadequate to enforce these laws, oversight has to be reformed. If our laws were broken, leading to this death and destruction, my solemn pledge is that we will bring those responsible to justice on behalf of the victims of this catastrophe and the people of the Gulf region.

We learned that Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is heading up joint government response efforts, will give daily solo briefings on the situation.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice will undertake an "aggressive" investigation into any criminal wrongdoing on the part of BP or the other corporations involved in the spill. "If we find evidence of illegal behavior, we will be extremely forceful in our response," Holder said during a press conference.

One product, or byproduct, of all this is the creation of political cover for the Obama administration, which finds itself in a terrible situation now that the "top kill" efforts have failed, and as it appears likely that oil will continue to gush until August, at least.

The Atlantic Wire's Max Fisher asks what the criminal probe can accomplish and notes that some see it as the administration covering itself.

That analysis may impute more motive than we're able to attribute, but it is worth pointing out that, up until now, the American public has not been satisfied with the government's response to the spill. A Gallup poll last week found that 60% of Americans saw the federal government's response as "poor" or "very poor."

I suspect that disapproval had a lot to do with the bad initial estimates on how much oil was spilling, which meant that both the administration and BP weren't doing nearly as much as they are now, in the weeks after the rig initially exploded. Everyone came off looking pretty flat footed, no matter whose fault it was.

There's not much the administration can do to stop the oil from spilling, so it may as well do what it can--find out what happened and try to hold people accountable--because public dismay will only grow now that oil continues to pour into the ocean and pollute U.S. wetlands along the Gulf Coast. So that's what the administration is doing, and it's doing it in full.