Obama: Gov't in charge of oil disaster response

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama says the government is in charge of the response to the Gulf oil spill, not the oil company BP.

Obama says all steps BP takes to end the huge spill must be approved in advance by the government. Obama says his administration will do whatever is needed to protect and restore the Gulf Coast from this "unprecedented disaster."

At a White House news conference Thursday, Obama also said the spill was causing "tremendous catastrophe" for the Gulf Coast and urged Americans to visit the region's beaches.

President Barack Obama moved aggressively to show his government is in charge of the Gulf oil spill on Thursday, calling the spill an "unprecedented disaster" and blasting a "scandalously close relationship" between oil companies and regulators.

"The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort," Obama told a news conference. He was responding to criticism that his administration had been slow to act and had left BP in charge of plugging the leak.

Obama said many critics failed to realize "this has been our highest priority."

The president says a moratorium on new deepwater oil wells will be extended for six months while further investigations of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico can be conducted.

Obama also said that regulators must have more time to review permits for drilling and must pay closer attention to environmental laws.

Obama said some proposed drilling lease sales would be canceled. He decried what he called a "scandalously close relationship" between regulators and oil companies and said that would be stopped.

Obama said he would use the full force of the federal government to protect citizens and that BP would be required to reimburse all claims.

The president also says the federal government needs to look at getting the technology that would allow it to work at the bottom of the sea to plug oil leaks like the Gulf of Mexico spill.

He says right now only BP and other oil companies have that technology and that's why the White House has to rely on BP to try to fix the disaster.

Obama said he wants to explore ways the federal government could develop a team to directly respond to oil spills and not have to rely on oil companies.

The government has come under growing criticism for a perception it's deferring to BP - something Obama strongly denies.

He conceded that "people are going to be frustrated until it stops."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)