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A Times Editorial

Federal takeover of spill work isn't the answer

As frustrated as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and other politicians are with BP's failure to cap the massive oil leak in the gulf, a federal takeover of the effort is not the answer. The federal government does not have the expertise, equipment or personnel to do the job — and BP cannot be let off the hook. Instead, federal, state and local officials should focus their efforts on ramping up environmental oversight of BP's cleanup and fast-tracking financial aid to Gulf Coast residents who have had their livelihoods disrupted by this disaster.

Coastal communities across Louisiana have suffered the worst since the BP-leased rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20. The pictures of oil-filled marshes and blackened pelicans are heartbreaking and reinforce why Florida needs to continue to ban drilling in state waters. This state so far has been blessed by favorable winds and gulf currents, and it has yet to see the first drop of oil touch its shores. But cautious tourists are steering clear of the Panhandle, and BP's $25 million for tourism ads is just now arriving. That money has to be spent on more sophisticated, targeted advertising than the generic television spots the state has aired so far up north.

BP could begin as early as today to try to kill the spewing well by flooding it with mud and cement, and it should not turn off the live television feed. The so-called "top kill" maneuver has never been attempted at the 1-mile depth where the broken wellhead rests on the gulf floor. While the frustration with failed attempts to stop the leak are understandable, the federal government should keep the pressure on BP without trying to take over an operation it is not equipped to handle on its own. It should continue organizing the federal response and ensure that the lines of communication remain open with state and local officials.

President Barack Obama needs to keep the heat on BP and offer more assurances to Gulf Coast residents that the company and the nation will help them recover. He can do that when he visits the scene for a second time Friday. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke declared a fishery disaster Monday in the gulf, which will speed financial aid to businesses in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama hurt by the losses to recreational and commercial fishing. But this is only a start. Congress also needs to pass Obama's emergency aid and loan package for the gulf. And it needs to strengthen the broken and corrupt structure for regulating offshore drilling.

The White House made a superb choice by tapping former Florida governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham to co-chair a commission to investigate the causes of this disaster and propose regulatory reforms. Graham was a strong environmentalist in public office and has been heavily involved in similar commissions on other issues in recent years. As Graham's group takes the longer view, state and federal governments need to ensure that BP acts responsibly and that the fishing, hospitality, tourism and other affected industries are helped back on their feet.

Federal takeover of spill work isn't the answer 05/25/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 6:49pm]
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