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Obama Starts Panel To Probe Oil Disaster

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Kent Klein

U.S. President Barack Obama has established a bipartisan commission to investigate the disastrous oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. The president wants to know what happened and how to prevent it from happening again.   

More than a month after a drilling rig exploded off the coast of the state of Louisiana, oil continues to billow into the Gulf, devastating the environment and the economy in the region and beyond.

President Obama, whose response to the disaster is being criticized, is turning to a group of Democrats and Republicans for answers. "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," he said.

In his weekly address Saturday, the president says he wants the commission's final report within six months.

The energy company BP is continuing efforts to stop the leak, overseen by the U.S. government.

The inability to plug the hole has led to frustration about whether the government is pushing BP hard enough.  White House press secretary Robert Gibbs faced relentless questioning from reporters Friday about whether the Obama administration is doing everything possible to solve the problem. "There is nothing that we think can and should be done that is not being done.  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing," he said.

The disaster has also called into question Mr. Obama's recent commitment to oil drilling off the U.S. coastline.  The president says he still supports offshore drilling as a way to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but he wants precautions against future catastrophes. "But we can only pursue offshore oil drilling if we have assurances that a disaster like the BP oil spill will not happen again. This Commission will, I hope, help provide those assurances so we can continue to seek a secure energy future for the United States of America," he said.

In the weekly Republican Party address, Louisiana Senator David Vitter says he also wants offshore drilling to continue, with safeguards.  Vitter is criticizing some lawmakers for using the Gulf disaster as a reason to oppose all further offshore drilling. "Both Republicans and Democrats say they want to decrease our foreign dependence on oil, but ending all domestic energy production offshore would only make us that much more dependent," he said.

Vitter is asking the U.S. Army to protect his state's coast by extending nearby barrier islands.  He is also sponsoring legislation to raise the limit on oil companies' liability in spills.

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