WASHINGTON — BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward on Monday defended his company's use of a chemical agent to disperse the oil leaking from a well deep under the Gulf of Mexico, despite an Environmental Protection Agency order for BP to stop using it.
The company has applied more than 600,000 gallons of the chemical, called Corexit, since the oil spill began more than a month ago, and Hayward said its use would continue. The EPA last week ordered the company to switch to a less toxic dispersant by Sunday.
"We have used dispersants from the beginning that are on the EPA approved list," he said. "Everything we do with dispersants is with the explicit approval with the EPA."
The unprecedented scope of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the widening criticism of BP's response to it is forcing federal officials to rethink the government's role in such a wide-scale disaster, the commandant of the Coast Guard said Monday.
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"I'd say we're actually defining that as we go, because I've never dealt with a scenario like this," Adm. Thad Allen said. "I've been dealing with oil spills, you know, for over 30 years. This is an unprecedented, anomalous event."
As Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday again pressed the federal government to do more, Allen and other Obama administration officials faced growing questions about whether the federal government could or should take over the job of stopping the spill and leading the cleanup from BP.
"We need to make the federal government accountable," Jindal said Monday in Louisiana, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, at his side.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called on the EPA to enforce its dispersants order.
"EPA must stop the use of toxic chemical dispersants and force BP to the most responsible resolution to this environmental and economic disaster," Nadler said.
Allen insisted at the White House that the federal government is doing all it can do, given its equipment and expertise.
He brushed aside a weekend comment from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar suggesting that the government might "push" BP out of the way. That was just a metaphor, Allen said.
"To push BP out of the way would raise a question, to replace them with what?" Allen said.
After constant talks with BP as well as experts from other oil businesses and the private sector, Allen said he remains convinced that BP is doing all that can be done to deal with the catastrophe.
Sometime today or Wednesday, BP plans an exercise called "top kill" that will shoot heavy mud and cement into the well to try to plug it. BP officials estimated the chance of success at 60 percent to 70 percent.
"They are pressing ahead. We are overseeing them. They're exhausting every technical means possible to deal with that leak," Allen said.
Allen dismissed suggestions that the federal government take over, noting that the government doesn't own the kind of equipment needed to operate at underwater depths of 5,000 feet.
"BP or the private sector are the only ones that have the means to deal with that problem down there. It's not government equipment that's going to be used to do that," he said.