NYT Front Page: White House Underestimated Threat of Oil Leak, Responded Late

May 1st, 2010 5:34 PM

The New York Times Saturday made it clear that it is willing to fault the Obama administration for its response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

On top of the editorial previously reviewed by NewsBusters, the Gray Lady published a front page piece largely critical of the White House.

Makes you wonder what Times columnist Paul Krugman -- who a day earlier scoffed at people for even considering the President to be at all to blame -- is feeling as he watches his paper take a position quite contrary to his own.

But before we get there, here's what Campbell Robertson and Eric Lipton surprisingly presented to readers (h/t Gateway Pundit via NBer Brinton Marsden):

BP officials said they did everything possible, and a review of the response suggests it may be too simplistic to place all the blame on the oil company. The federal government also had opportunities to move more quickly, but did not do so while it waited for a resolution to the spreading spill from BP, which was leasing the drilling rig that exploded in flames on April 20 and sank two days later. Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead.

The Department of Homeland Security waited until Thursday to declare that the incident was "a spill of national significance," and then set up a second command center in Mobile. The actions came only after the estimate of the size of the spill was increased fivefold to 5,000 barrels a day.

The delay meant that the Homeland Security Department waited until late this week to formally request a more robust response from the Department of Defense, with Ms. Napolitano acknowledging even as late as Thursday afternoon that she did not know if the Defense Department even had equipment that might be helpful.

Can you imagine that? The secretary of the DHS "did not know if the Defense Department even had equipment that might be helpful."

Forgive me, but we're talking STAGGERING incompetence here: 

By Friday afternoon, she said, the Defense Department had agreed to send two large military transport planes to spray chemicals that can disperse the oil while it is still in the Gulf.

Officials initially seemed to underestimate the threat of a leak, just as BP did last year when it told the government such an event was highly unlikely. Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, the chief Coast Guard official in charge of the response, said on April 22, after the rig sank, that the oil that was on the surface appeared to be merely residual oil from the fire, though she said it was unclear what was going on underwater. The day after, officials said that it appeared the well's blowout preventer had kicked in and that there did not seem to be any oil leaking from the well, though they cautioned it was not a guarantee.

So, not only was the Administration slow to act, but also its decision-making was hapless:

Some oil industry critics questioned whether the federal government is too reliant on oil companies to manage the response to major spills, leaving the government unable to evaluate if the response is robust enough.

"Here you have the company that is responsible for the accident leading the response to the crisis," said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen's Energy Program. "There is a problem here, and the consequence is clear."

And here's the money paragraph: 

But it is still the government, in this case the Coast Guard, that has the final say. A law passed a year after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster makes the owner of a rig or vessel responsible for cleaning up a spill. But oversight of the cleanup is designated to the Coast Guard, with advice from other federal agencies.

Well, this will certainly come as a shock to Krugman who the previous day mocked anyone that might consider pointing a finger at the President.

Adding insult to injury, the Nobel Laureate added an update to his blog post that I'm sure he'd like to take back:

Update: He shoots! He scores! Media Matters: Rush's conspiracy theory: "Environmentalist whackos" may have blown up oil rig to "head off more oil drilling"

Not exactly. More like, "He shoots, and breaks his stick on the ice before making contact with the puck!"