Obama Vows Changes to Prevent Future Oil Spill Disaster

President Barack Obama called the BP Plc oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico “the greatest environmental disaster of its kind in our history” and vowed to pursue a criminal investigation if any laws were broken.

The president said the special commission led by former Florida Senator Bob Graham and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William Reilly will fully investigate the causes to make sure such a catastrophe won’t happen again.

“We owe all those who have been harmed, as well as future generations, a full and vigorous accounting of the events that led to what has now become the worst oil spill in U.S. history,” Obama said in the White House Rose Garden with Graham and Reilly at his side. “If our laws were broken, leading to this death and destruction, my solemn pledge is that we will bring those responsible to justice.”

BP’s latest effort to plug the damaged oil well, resulting in the largest oil spill in U.S. history, was deemed a failure over the weekend. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said today that the London-based company has decided not to attach a second device to try and stop the flow until relief wells are finished.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is in the Gulf region today to meet with top state and federal prosecutors as part of the government’s response.

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In addition, Obama said he authorized more than 17,000 National Guard troops be deployed to the area and said there are more than 1,700 vessels helping in the response to “ensure that any and all responsible means of containing this leak are pursued.”

He reiterated his directive to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Allen to triple the number of personnel working on containment “in those places where oil has hit shore or is within 24 hours of impact.”

Oil is leaking from the well 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf at a rate of as much as 19,000 barrels a day, and relief wells, the first of which is scheduled for completion in August, may be the best hope to stanch the leak, Carol Browner, Obama’s adviser on energy and climate change, said earlier today in a Bloomberg television interview.

Obama said the environmental damage “could last for decades.”

“We’ve ordered BP to pay economic injury claims and we will make sure they deliver,” he said. “We will absolutely continue to hold BP and any other responsible parties accountable for financial losses borne by the people in the region.”

Widening Impact

The president vowed the government will keep pouring resources into the effort to stem environmental and economic damage from the spill, which has already hit the coast of Louisiana and may hit the shores of Mississippi and Alabama this week.

“We have an obligation to investigate what went wrong and to determine what reforms are needed so that we never have to experience a crisis like this again,” he said. “If the laws on our books are insufficient to prevent such a spill, the laws must change. If oversight was inadequate to enforce these laws, oversight has to be reformed.”

Obama said he will appoint five more members of the commission who will come from “leaders in science and engineering.”

“I’ve authorized the commission to hold public hearings and to request information from government, from not-for-profit organizations and from experts in the oil and gas industry both at home and abroad as well as from relevant companies, including BP, Transocean, Halliburton and others,” he said.

BP leased the drilling rig that exploded and sank in the Gulf last month from Geneva-base Transocean Ltd. Houston-based Halliburton Co., which provided oilfield services on the well.

To contact the reporters on this story: Edwin Chen in Washington at EChen32@bloomberg.net; Kate Andersen Brower in Washington at Kandersen7@bloomberg.net

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