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U.S. Officials Defend Spill Response, Take Hard Line Against BP

The Obama administration took a harder line against BP Plc as it faced questions yesterday about whether the government is reacting swiftly and forcefully enough in dealing with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Coast Guard commandant, Admiral Thad Allen, said federal authorities are working to make sure BP does all it can to fight the spill and resulting environmental crisis.

“We ask a lot of hard questions,” Allen told reporters at a White House briefing. “And I can tell you some of the sessions have been inquisitorial in nature regarding the assumptions they’re making.”

Allen’s comments came after Louisiana’s Republican Governor Bobby Jindal said the federal government’s response has been a “disjointed effort” providing “too little, too late to stop the oil from hitting our coast.” While BP is legally responsible for the spill, Jindal said “we need the federal government to make sure they are held accountable.”

President Barack Obama is “still frustrated” that oil is continuing to spill from the offshore well, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at the White House briefing. In a conference call, Obama expressed his “sense of urgency” yesterday to Jindal and governors Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Bob Riley of Alabama, and Charlie Crist of Florida, the White House said.

At a separate briefing in Louisiana, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the government “will not rest until this job is done.” The spill, he said. “is a BP mess, it’s a horrible mess.”

Exhausting Every Means

Allen, the national coordinator for the spill response, said the government has little choice but to rely on BP’s expertise in dealing with a leak about 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) underwater. The company is “exhausting every technical means possible,” said Allen, who described himself as “satisfied” so far on coordination with BP.

“To push BP out of the way would raise a question: replace them with what?” Allen said.

After the White House briefing, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said she would order BP to immediately cut the amount of dispersant chemicals it is using to break up the spreading oil spill.

The U.S. must ensure that enough dispersant is available a month from now should the spill worsen, Jackson said on a conference call with reporters. BP has applied the chemicals at a “world record” rate, Jackson said.

In Louisiana, Jindal has said the Army Corps of Engineers should dredge along the gulf to build barrier islands to protect the coast.

Allen said the plan would take six to nine months. The request is being considered, Allen said.

Gibbs said Interior Secretary Salazar will deliver a 30-day report on the causes of the spill to Obama by May 27.

To contact the reporters on this story: Edwin Chen in Washington at EChen32@bloomberg.net; Kim Chipman in Washington at kchipman@bloomberg.net

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