Even as the administration continues to ward off criticism about its response to the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf Coast, the White House insisted today that President Obama is still open to expanding offshore drilling.
"I do not believe the president, as frustrated as he is, wants to make a judgement" before reading the Interior Department's report on the oil spill he is scheduled to receive Thursday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters today.
More than a month since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig caused a leak that has spewed millions of gallons of oil into the ocean, oil company BP is still working with the government on capping the leak and containing the oil. On Wednesday, BP will be trying an operation to cap the leak called "top kill," in which heavy mud will be blasted into the hole to plug it before sealing it with cement.
At today's press briefing, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen said that BP is an essential partner in the clean up and containment efforts and that he is satisfied with the oil company's coordination with the government.
Still, Allen acknowledged that the spill, 5,000 feet under water, "is an unprecedented, anomalous event."
Gibbs reminded reporters, however, that oil drilling in the Gulf accounts for 30 percent of the nation's domestic oil production and the president intends to continue exploring an expansion of drilling there. He said Mr. Obama intends to re-evaluate his plans based on the report from the Interior Department, as well as separate reforts from an independent commission and the National Academy of Engineering. The reports, he said, should "inform what you're doing going forward."CBSNews.com Special Report: Disaster in the Gulf
"The president's view point is fail-safe has to mean that," he said. "If it doesn't, we have to examine why it doesn't and the circumstances around that."
The president has said that until the cause of the Deepwater explosion is determined, all plans for new drilling should be halted. However, the New York Times reported today that the government has approved at least a dozen new drilling permits and waivers since the spill.
Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner said today, however, "We are doing exactly what we said." The permits the Times referred to were all modifications of already-existing permits, she said.
Critics of the administration, including former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, have suggested the president has not responded with the urgency and attention the situation deserves.
"You've got to have a license to drive a car in the country, but regrettably, you can get on TV and say anything," Gibbs said with respect to the criticism. He joked, "Speaking of blow out preventers..."