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Upset about oil spill, Obama changes tune on drilling

April 30, 2010 |  9:14 am

Birds sit at water surrounded by oil booms on Breton Sound Island in the Gulf of Mexico April 29, 1020 by Reuters
In the wake of the disastrous oil spill spewing in the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of 210,000 gallons a day, the Obama administration is backtracking from plans to authorize new off-shore oil drilling off the coasts of Alaska and Florida.

Many species are already suffering and worse is expected as the looming environmental disaster barrels toward the Gulf states. Migrating birds, nesting pelicans, river otters and mink along Louisiana's fragile islands and barrier marshes -- all are endangered. Still, enviros everywhere probably see a silver lining.

A few weeks ago, President Obama announced to great fanfare that he would open up the Atlantic coastline and some other areas to offshore drilling, part of a political strategy to attract votes from moderates and conservatives for a comprehensive energy package.

Now, the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard are trying valiantly to stop the massive oil spill from damaging the Gulf Coast. Criticism is mounting about whether the feds did enough in the early days in response to the crisis. The White House is worried about the potential economic and ecological fallout. So, after ordering an investigation into what happened and why, Obama changed his tone.

In Rose Garden remarks meant to showcase the improving economy, Obama pivoted to talk about the oil rig explosion. Arguing that oil company BP is ultimately responsible, Obama said he continues to support oil drilling as part of an energy package, "but I've always said it must be done responsibly, for the safety of our workers and our environment."

Pressed to explain the apparent presidential turn-about, White House adviser David Axelrod said on ABC's "Good Morning America," "All he has said is that he is not going to continue the moratorium" on drilling. As for moving forward, he added, "No additional drilling has been authorized, and none will until we find out what happened here and whether there was something unique and preventable here."

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Birds sit in water surrounded by oil booms on Breton Sound Island in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday. Credit: Reuters

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