Obama lauds progress after Gulf spill but says ‘the job isn’t done’

President Obama marked the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill Wednesday by vowing a continued commitment to Gulf of Mexico recovery and restoration, lauding “significant” progress while proclaiming that “the job isn’t done.”

His statement comes one year after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and touching off the months-long release of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf.

“That catastrophic event deeply affected the lives of millions of Americans, from local fishermen to restaurant and hotel owners and small businesses throughout the region,” said Obama, who vowed that the White House goal is to ensure the Gulf Coast “recovers stronger than before.”

Some aspects of the federal response have come under criticism, but Obama maintains that the administration “brought every available resource to bear” in marshaling tens of thousands of workers in the largest spill response in U.S. history.

But his statement also recognizes that major elements of the federal response to the spill remain ongoing, noting, “Nearly 2,000 responders are actively working in the Gulf to aid in the ongoing recovery efforts.

“We continue to hold BP and other responsible parties fully accountable for the damage they’ve done and the painful losses that they’ve caused,” Obama said.

The Justice Department filed a major civil lawsuit against BP and other firms connected to the spill in December, seeking penalties under the Clean Water Act and unlimited liability for cleanup and damage costs under the Oil Pollution Act. A criminal probe is ongoing.

Obama’s statement addresses other elements of the response, including the Interior Department’s toughening of offshore drilling regulations.

“We’re monitoring seafood to ensure its continued safety and implementing aggressive new reforms for offshore oil production in the Gulf so that we can safely and responsibly expand development of our own energy resources,” Obama said.

“And EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is leading a task force to coordinate the long-term restoration effort based on input from local scientists, experts and citizens,” he added.

The statement does not call for specific legislation, an omission that comes amid great uncertainty over whether lawmakers will be able to agree on measures addressing liability for future spills.

Spill response legislation vexed lawmakers last year and could face even bigger hurdles in a divided Congress, although some measures have support across the aisle.

The Interior Department’s top offshore drilling regulator on Tuesday said that his department has been able to undertake major safety reforms, but that legislation on some issues is needed.

Other measures pending before Congress include bipartisan legislation to ensure that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines collected from the spill are steered into Gulf restoration, a goal the administration has backed.

Obama’s statement concludes:

“The events that unfolded on April 20, 2010, and the oil spill that followed underscore the critical link between the environment and economic health of the Gulf. My administration is committed to doing whatever is necessary to protect and restore the Gulf Coast. Today, we remember the 11 lives lost as a result of this tragic event and thank the thousands of responders who worked to mitigate this disaster. But we also keep a watchful eye on the continuing and important work required to ensure that the Gulf Coast recovers stronger than before.”