Obama Blasts Oil Companies Over Gulf Spill

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In his strongest words yet to describe the administration's response to the growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama criticized BP and other oil companies Friday for "finger-pointing and irresponsibility."

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And we begin this hour at the White House, hundreds of miles from the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet questions about the government's role in the run-up to the spill, and its handling of the response, have begun to cast a shadow over Washington. President Obama stepped into the Rose Garden today to deliver a statement. He neither accepted nor rejected an NPR report that the leak may be 10 times larger than government estimates. And he attacked what he called finger-pointing and irresponsibility by the companies involved.

NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro has our story.

ARI SHAPIRO: President Obama emerged from the Oval Office with members of his Cabinet. They stood next to him in the sun.

President BARACK OBAMA: I know there have been varying reports over the last few days about how large the leak is. But since no one can get down there in person, we know there's a level of uncertainty.

SHAPIRO: Scientists who reviewed video footage of the leak for NPR calculated that the well may be dumping 70,000 barrels a day. The government estimate has been 5,000 barrels a day. BP rejects the larger measurement. President Obama said the size of the spill is not what's most important.

Pres. OBAMA: What really matters is this: There's oil leaking and we need to stop it, and we need to stop it as soon as possible.

SHAPIRO: He became animated when he talked about this week's hearings on the subject.

Pres. OBAMA: I did not appreciate what I consider to be a ridiculous spectacle during the congressional hearings into this matter. Yet executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton - falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else.

SHAPIRO: He said there's enough responsibility to go around, including within the federal government. The president ordered a review of the Minerals Management Service. That's the government office that oversees oil drilling.

Pres. OBAMA: There's been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill. Seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies. That cannot and will not happen anymore.

SHAPIRO: He said he's closing a loophole that let oil companies bypass some critical environmental reviews.

Pres. OBAMA: Today, we're announcing a new examination of the environmental procedures for oil and gas exploration and development.

SHAPIRO: This comes after news reports that the Obama administration approved hundreds of permits, exploration and production plans without obtaining the necessary environmental approvals.

After speaking for seven minutes, the president returned to the Oval Office. He did not take any questions.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

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