President Obama frees up federal funding to help with Gulf oil spill

1:39 PM, Apr 29, 2010   |    comments
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A worker secures ropes on a crew boat after departing from the oil skimmer Louisiana Responder, which is assisting in the collection of oil from a leaking pipeline that resulted from last week's explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico near the coast of Louisiana, April 27, 2010.

A trio of high-ranking federal officials plan to visit the Gulf Coast Friday, the same day the massive oil spill is expected to hit U.S. coastline, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

That trio comprises Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

"This is a spill of national significance," Napolitano said during a briefing for reporters at the White House.

See Also: Coast Guard raises oil-leak estimate

The rig Deepwater Horizon sank a week ago after exploding two days earlier. Of its crew of 126, 11 are missing and presumed dead. The rig was owned by Transocean Ltd. and operated by BP.

Classifying the spill with the phrase "national significance" allows the government to tap funds from other areas of the country's coastline to pay for efforts to clean up and monitor the spill, Napolitano said.

Napolitano pledged her department will make sure that BP will reimburse the government for any taxpayer dollars spent on the clean up.

David Hayes, a deputy secretary of the Interior, told reporters that Salazar has ordered immediate inspections of all deep water oil platforms in Gulf.

"That inspection operation is underway as we speak," Hayes said.

Salazar wasn't at the briefing because he was already at a command center in Houston, Hayes said.

Napolitano said the homeland security and interior departments are conducting a joint investigation into what caused the explosion on the rig.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara described Wednesday's controlled burn of the oil spill as "very successful," but she said sea and wind conditions won't allow another such burn to be conducted Thursday.

Jackson said the EPA will assist the Coast Guard, which is the lead agency in matters involving the sea and the country's coastline. However, the EPA will monitor air conditions using aircraft and fixed monitors, she said. The EPA will release air quality data within the next few days, she said.

During the briefing, Gibbs announced that President Obama has spoken with all five governors of the Gulf Coast states to offer them support.

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