(BP poll story updated for top kill failure)
GRAND ISLE, La. (
) -- The optimistic comments from BP and government officials about the top kill last week were reduced to nothing more than the latest less-than-credible reports over the Memorial Day weekend, when the BP top kill failed to contain the oil spill.
President Obama spoke twice last week on the BP oil spill, finally framing his comments within an "on the ground" Gulf region photo op, kneeling on a Louisiana beach to inspect a tar ball while U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Thad Allen explained to Obama the intricacies of the widening environmental disaster.
President Obama spoke from the Gulf Coast last Friday directly to those most directly impacted by the BP oil spill, noting the "assault on our shores, our people, our regional economies and communities. People's livelihoods are washing up on the beach," the President said.
Yet, with the top kill relegated to the growing list of BP failures, and estimates for the oil spill now reaching 20 million barrels of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, BP's credibility is declining almost as precipitously as its stock price, which has shed more than one-third of its market value since the oil spill crisis began.
President Obama, for his part, said all the right words in his successive speeches last week about "the buck" stopping at his desk -- still, the President's famous rhetoric is no match for 20 million gallons of oil, pelicans slicked in heavy crude, and irate residents of the Gulf Coast region who depend on fishing businesses to make a livelihood.
Last Thursday, May 27, the biggest head yet "rolled" in the BP oil spill crisis, when the head of the Interior Department's much-criticized Minerals Management Service resigned, and wrote in her resignation letter that she hoped the Interior Department would have success fixing the problems that she "inherited." Also this week, several oil executives and government officials used fifth amendment rights to not incriminate themselves and medical notes from doctors to get out of testifying at the contentious BP oil spill hearings in New Orleans.
Yet it was just another week in the blame game otherwise known as "the worst oil spill in U.S. history." Additionally, by Monday, June 1, Obama environmental advisor Carol Browner went beyond her previous statement that the BP oil spill was the worst oil disaster in the country's history, saying the BP oil spill was simply the worst environmental disaster ever.
President Obama opted to make sure the country knew that he ultimately assumed full responsibility for the BP oil spill -- while BP and any other companies proven to have been responsible for the spill would be beholden to any and all financial and legal claims resulting from the disaster. The President dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder to the Gulf Coast on Tuesday morning to begin the legal investigation into potential crime committed in the BP oil spill.
"I ultimately take responsibility for solving this crisis. I am the president. The buck stops with me," Obama said, as the call of seabirds hovered above his head last Friday.
There is good reason for Obama to be worried about the country's judgment of his administration's handling of the BP oil spill, even if the rhetoric of "Obama's Katrina" is no more than a ready-made
sound bite. A Gallup poll from Thursday found that 53% of American though Obama's performance on the BP oil spill was "poor" or "very poor."
And that was a poll taken before the BP top kill had failed.
By Sunday, May 31, when BP's top kill was history, President Obama had ordered a tripling of the government and contractor resources on the Gulf Coast.
The President is still comfortably ahead of BP -- which was rated "poor" or "very poor" by 73% of surveyed -- but the margin between BP and the President has diminished. The federal government came out even worse than Obama -- and closer to BP in the poll -- with 60% of those surveyed saying that the federal response was "poor" or "very poor."
Nevertheless, a majority 68% of those in the Gallup survey said that BP should remain in charge of the cleanup. As the BP oil spill has worsened, questions have been raised about who is in charge -- BP or the government -- and whose head should roll as a result of the, at least so far, failed oil spill containment effort.
President Obama unrolled a long list of what the federal government has done since Day One of the BP oil spill on Friday, from the deploying of 3 million cubic feet of containment boom, to 20,000 around-the-clock workers, to having staging equipment on the scene since the first days of the crisis, to deploying 1,400 National Guard troops and hundreds of vessels in the Gulf.
Nevertheless, the oil is still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, and President Obama was able to refer to the oil spill cleanup effort on Friday as the largest-ever in the nation's history only because it is the largest-ever oil spill in the nation's history. Not a record for which one necessarily wants to be included in the
Indeed, it all raised the question: Should BP CEO Tony Hayward, or Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, face the firing line if the BP oil spill continues to overwhelm efforts from BP and the government?
When this question surfaced earlier this week at a White House press conference, in the form of the press asking U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Thad Allen if BP should be replaced, the Coast Guard official gave the obvious answer: "Replaced with whom?"
The Gallup poll results showed that a majority of Americans still want BP in control of the oil spill effort -- even though the top kill quickly descended from "proceeding according to plan" to temporary suspensions that BP said were nothing to worry about, and finally to one thing for which the public has been able to rely on BP: failure.
It wasn't a complete surprise that the top kill failed. It had to be suspended once on Thursday night, and by Friday needed the extra impetus of the "junk shot", before again being suspended late in the day on Friday.
With all of these moving parts and amid the roller coaster ride of top kill optimism that has ended in the latest BP failure, we asked
audience last week (before BP conceded the top kill had not worked) ,
Which BP executive or Obama administration official should be fired over the BP oil spill?
The big takeaway? A majority of responses matched the Gallup finding, with 37% of survey takers saying that no one should be fired in either the government or at BP because it would do nothing to help the oil spill containment and cleanup effort.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and BP CEO Tony Hayward will be happy to know that
is not ready to write either one of their pink slips, though the government did edge out BP among those who thought someone should be fired. Approximately 16% of survey takers wanted to see Salazar go off into the Gulf of Mexico horizon, while 14% wanted to send the British oil imperialist Hayward back to England.
Neither Salazar or Hayward should feel all too safe, though: a full 26% of survey takers said that both should be fired!
BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles, who has often been the oil giant's point man on the round of morning shows on U.S. television, can say "it's good to (just be) the COO." Only 7% of survey respondents thought that Suttles should be the one to go.
As President Obama said on Friday standing on a Gulf Coast shore, if and when the leaking oil is plugged, it will still be months of cleanup and recovery for the Gulf region, if not longer, and long after the TV cameras have left, the people of the Gulf region will be dealing with the repercussions.
In the end, it's the Gulf Region in this for the long haul. In the immediate BP oil spill news event, no matter where the buck stops, the oil keeps gushing.
Whether the failure of the top kill will significantly change the public perception of BP officials or government officials was impossible to ascertain on Tuesday morning, though BP's stock slide was again precipitous and the Obama administration was once again trying to manage an environmental crisis that keeps escalating.
BP CEO Tony Hayward and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar may have jobs that are safe for the moment, but the only thing that is safe to say right now is that when it comes to the BP oil spill, it's nature -- and not BP or President Obama -- that's in control.
-- Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.
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