Questions about the oil spill that Obama could hear at his news conference

Workers remove plants affected by oil that has washed ashore from the spill. The government has ceded much of the response to BP.
Workers remove plants affected by oil that has washed ashore from the spill. The government has ceded much of the response to BP. (Derick E. Hingle/bloomberg)

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

On Thursday, President Obama will hold a White House news conference, his first since February, as he attempts to shore up public confidence in his administration's efforts to fight the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Here are a few questions reporters might consider asking the president:

1.In explaining and defending your decision in March to open up additional offshore areas to drilling, you argued that improvements in technology have made drilling significantly less risky. Just 18 days before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, you said: "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don't cause spills. They are technologically very advanced." What do you think of those assumptions now?

2.BP, the company that caused the incident, is now in the position of making many of the key decisions on how to deal with it. White House officials note that the administration is following a process established under the 1990 Oil Spill Act, which was passed in response to the Exxon Valdez incident; they also concede that the government, effectively, has no choice, because it lacks the equipment and expertise to do the job. In at least one instance where the federal government has attempted to overrule BP, over its use of dispersant chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency says are too toxic, the company has reduced but not discontinued its use of those chemicals. What do you say to those who say too much control has been ceded to BP? And what kind of changes, if any, should be made in the process for dealing with future oil spills?

3.On May 6, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a moratorium on the issuance of final permits for "new offshore drilling activity." Critics note, however, that this policy has never been put into writing and that its definition has become steadily narrower. And the New York Times has reported that since the April 20 explosion on the rig, waivers have continued to be granted for drilling projects. What, exactly, does this moratorium cover?

4.Should anyone in the government be fired as the result of this disaster?

-- Karen Tumulty and Juliet Eilperin


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