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Grill Baby Grill: In Press Conference, Obama Says BP Will Pay, Pledges New Offshore Drilling Regulation

After weeks of watching as the BP oil spill off the Gulf Coast destroys local communities and wildlife, Obama is finally getting tough on offshore drilling—and BP's role in creating this disaster.

In a speech this afternoon, Obama ripped into BP, saying, "Make no mistake—BP is operating at our direction. Every key decision and action they take must be approved by us in advance." BP will "be paying a lot of damages, and we're going to stay on them on that," the President said. Obama also talked tough about the role of the Mineral Management Services (MMS) in the spill, offering up this jab at the agency: "For years there has been a scandalously close relationship between [oil industry and people who regulate them]." 

This is probably, Obama hinted, because of a culture during the Bush administration in which oil companies could get what they wanted without oversight. "When it comes to a specific [oil] company with its exploration plan...Congress mandated that only 30 days could be allocated before a yes or no answer was given. The habit, predating my administration, was that you automatically gave the environmental waiver because you couldn't complete the environmental evaluation in 30 days."

The President relieved some of the pressure on BP by putting it on the federal government instead. "The problem is not that...nobody's minding the store," he said. "Inevitably in something this big there will be places where things fall short. Our teams are authorized to direct BP. We've got the authority that we need."

Obama admitted that there have been some hiccups in the effort to contain the spill. "We can always do better," he said. The deployment of boom hasn't, according to Obama, been as nimble as it needs to be. At the same time, yesterday's "Top Kill" procedure was delayed because of questions about its potential effectiveness and risk. But ultimately, Obama believes that the U.S. is doing well with the spill. "I'm confident that people are going to look back and say that this administration was on top of what was going on," Obama said.

Since the oil industry has, according to Obama, effectively been allowed to regulate itself for so long, the government will suspend licenses for new wells for the next 6 months. "The Interior Dept has only 30 days to review proposal by oil companies. It's not enough time to conduct an environmental review. As a result, they're continually waived," Obama explained. Presumably, this temporary ban on licenses will give the government time to overhaul its regulatory procedures. 

Obama knows that the age of cheap and easy oil is over. "Extraction is more expensive and it's inherently going to be more risky. That's part of the reason you never heard me say 'drill baby drill'. Because we can't drill our way out of a problem," he said. In his speech, Obama expressed his concern for future generations impacted by our environmental mistakes. And yet, the President insists on continuing with offshore drilling, even as he realizes that it comes with significant risk. The possibility of future spills always looms.

 Read more about the Gulf Oil Spill

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Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by e-mail.