COVINGTON, La. - The Obama administration's point man on the oil spill rejected the notion of removing BP and taking over the crisis yesterday, saying the government has neither the company's expertise nor its deep-sea equipment.
"To push BP out of the way, it would raise the question, to replace them with what?" Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen, who is heading the federal response to the spill, said at a White House briefing.
The White House is facing increasing questions about why the government can't assert more control over the handling of the catastrophe, which unfolded after a BP offshore drilling rig blew up April 20.
All of BP's attempts to stop the leak have failed, despite the oil giant's use of joystick-operated submarine robots that can operate at depths no human could withstand. Millions of gallons of brown crude are coating birds and other wildlife and fouling the Louisiana marshes.
BP is pinning its hopes of stopping the gusher on yet another technique never tested 5,000 feet underwater: a "top kill," in which heavy mud and cement would be shot into the blown-out well to plug it up. The top kill could begin as early as Wednesday, with BP chief executive Tony Hayward giving it a 60 to 70 percent chance of success.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar suggested over the weekend that the government could intervene aggressively if BP wasn't delivering. "If we find that they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, we'll push them out of the way appropriately," he said.
Allen said: "That's more of a metaphor." He said BP and the government are working closely together, with the government holding veto power and adopting an "inquisitorial" stand toward the company's ideas.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also took a more measured tone at a news conference yesterday. "We continue to hold BP responsible as the responsible party, but we are on them, watching them," she said.