GULF SPILL:

Tough-talking admin officials 'stepping on neck of BP'

BP used to stand for "British Petroleum." Now the company wants people to think "Beyond Petroleum." But in the eyes of the Obama administration it's starting to mean "blame petroleum."

They cannot cite a specific complaint beyond a desire that the company work faster to find a solution to the river of crude pouring out of its well. But Obama's Cabinet secretaries have started poking some verbal kidney punches at the oil giant.

That was most apparent on the Sunday talk shows when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in two separate appearances used the imagery of a Wild West bar fight to describe how the administration was dealing with the company, whose well is shooting 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.

"Our job is basically to keep the boot on the neck of British Petroleum," Salazar said, who often sports a Stetson and who four months ago stirred the ire of the oil business by saying unlike under his predecessors in the George W. Bush administration, oil companies would no longer be treated like "kings of the world." When he was a senator, he had to apologize after calling Christian conservative leader James Dobson "the antichrist of the world."

And Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs made clear yesterday that the step-on-the-neck image had the White House seal of approval.

"I think that kind of sums up in that Western Colorado way how -- what we're trying to convey," Gibbs said.

It was more subtle when Cabinet officials started calling the company "British Petroleum," a moniker that reflects the company's foreign ownership but also a name it shed in 2000, when it became BP Amoco. It later dropped Amoco and started using the "Beyond Petroleum" slogan.

When he spoke in Venice, La., yesterday, President Obama correctly referred to the company as BP, and stuck to the basic message regarding the company's role as the "responsible party." He said, "Let me be clear: BP is responsible for this leak; BP will be paying the bill."

But as Salazar, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows, each referred to BP at least once as "British Petroleum."

"British Petroleum needs to get the spill stopped," Napolitano said on "FOX News Sunday."

Administration officials hit nearly every talk show yesterday, emphasizing that while the federal government was on the job, BP would pay the tab. They also indicated frustration with the London-based oil company but did not raise specific criticisms beyond a desire that it work more quickly to find a solution to the confounding stream of pollution flowing from a mile below the surface.

The shots across the company's bow come as the administration has stepped up its involvement and started working furiously to show the federal government doing everything possible. The administration seems both fearful and enraged by comparisons to Hurricane Katrina, another Gulf Coast disaster, but one that claimed more than 1,800 lives.

The elbows are being thrown even as BP has sought to assure the Gulf Coast and the country that it takes responsibility for the response to the Deepwater Horizon spill and will pay compensation for legitimate claims for property damage, personal injury and commercial losses.

"We are responsible, not for the accident, but we are responsible for the oil and for dealing with it and cleaning the situation up," BP CEO Tony Hayward said today on ABC's "Good Morning America."

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