Facing a growing furor over the month long Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the White House Friday named two environmentalists to lead a presidential commission investigating the disaster.
The appointments of former Florida Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and William K. Reilly, who led the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush, came as the Obama administration tried to defend its handling of the spill against critics who charge that the oil giant BP has been dragging its feet in measuring how much oil the company's ruptured well is spewing.
From Obama's weekly radio address: "If the laws on our books are inadequate to prevent such an oil spill, or if we didn’t enforce those laws – I want to know it. I want to know what worked and what didn’t work in our response to the disaster, and where oversight of the oil and gas industry broke down. We know, for example, that a cozy relationship between oil and gas companies and agencies that regulate them has long been a source of concern.
"...But we also need to take a comprehensive look at how the oil and gas industry operates and how we regulate them.... the purpose of this Commission is to consider both the root causes of the disaster and offer options on what safety and environmental precautions we need to take to prevent a similar disaster from happening again...
"I’ve asked Democrat Bob Graham and Republican Bill Reilly to co-chair this Commission. Bob served two terms as Florida’s governor, and represented Florida as a United States Senator for almost two decades. During that time, he earned a reputation as a champion of the environment, leading the most extensive environmental protection effort in the state’s history.
"Bill Reilly is chairman emeritus of the board of the World Wildlife Fund, and he is also deeply knowledgeable about the oil and gas industry. During the presidency of George H.W. Bush, Bill was Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and his tenure encompassed the Exxon Valdez disaster.
"I can’t think of two people who will bring greater experience or better judgment to the task at hand. In the days to come, I’ll appoint 5 other distinguished Americans – including scientists, engineers, and environmental advocates – to join them on the Commission. And I’m directing them to report back in 6 months with recommendations on how we can prevent – and mitigate the impact of – any future spills that result from offshore drilling."