Bowing to demands of Gulf coast residents and environmentalists, Attorney General Eric Holder Tuesday announced criminal as well as civil investigations into the oil spill that has gushed between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels of gas and Louisiana crude daily into the Gulf of Mexico since April 20.
In a press conference in New Orleans after surveying the areas being polluted with a mixture of oil and chemical dispersants, Holden said "What we saw this morning was oil for miles and miles and miles, oil that we know has already affected plants and animal life along the coast and has impacted the lives and livelihoods of all too many in this region. This must not be forgotten."
The attorney general would not elaborate on the scope of the criminal investigations but he did mention a likely target, the circumstances around the 11 crew killed on the Deepwater Horizons platform in an explosion and fire that eventually sank the rig two days later in 5,000 feet of water.
Holden said "our laws are enforced to the fullest extent possible" against Transocean, owners of the platform, BP, the leaseholders and Haliburton's subsidiary that unsuccessfully cemented the outer wall casing in which gases escaped up the pipeline by thousands of pounds of pressure from 8,000 feet into the earth's crust to the top of the oil rig.
Much of what Holden said at the press conference was self-serving such as: "The Department of Justice will ensure that the American people do not foot the bill for this disaster..."
The nation's top lawyer followed comments from the nation's chief executive vowing a "full and vigorous accounting" of the causes of the disaster." President Obama spoke after meeting with the two leaders of a panel he commissioned, former Florida Sen. Bob Graham and former EPA boss William Reilly.
Besides criminal prosecution, Holder said statutes his office is exploring are violations of the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act and the Migratory Bird and Endangered Species Act.
"As we move forward we will be guided by some relatively simple principles," Holder said. "We will ensue that every cent, every cent of taxpayer money will be repaid and that damages to the environment and wildlife will be reimbursed. We will make certain that those responsible clean up the mess that they have made... And we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, anyone who has violated the law."
Gulf residents want action, not promises.
The Obama administration's acceptance of "full responsibility" of the oil spill is a peculiar political twist taking ownership of the disaster in which it cannot plug the hole nor usurp BP's capacity to clean up the mess.