By Bridget Johnson and Kevin Bogardus - 05/02/10 01:23 PM EDT
Administration officials pushed back Sunday against criticism that the White House isn't acting fast enough to battle the massive oil spill creeping toward Gulf shores.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made the rounds on the morning news shows in advance of President Barack Obama's trip to Louisiana on Sunday.
Salazar acknowledged fears that the spill, stemming from an undersea well ruptured in the April 20 offshore rig explosion, could be worse than the Exxon Valdez accident that dumped nearly 11 million gallons of crude off the Alaska coast in 1989.
"We have to prepare for the worst-case scenario here," Salazar said.
"There are scenarios that it could be worse than the Exxon Valdez," he said when asked by host Chris Wallace about comparisons to the notorious environmental disaster. "We're not sugar-coating this."
"From Day One, there has been assumption of the worst-case scenario," Salazar said on CNN's "State of the Union," where he added, "We have never seen anything quite like this order of magnitude."
Napolitano was quick to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of BP again, after a week capped by increasing public pressure on the oil company from the White House.
"British Petroleum needs to get the spill stopped," she said on Fox. "They need to be doing more to protecting local shoreline.
"They are ultimately responsible," she said, a charge reiterated at the same time on CNN, where she added, "They are going to pay for it."
"Their job is get it shut off with the oversight of the Coast Guard," Napolitano said.
"You are talking about a multi-billion dollar company, the fourth largest company in the world, I believe," Salazar said on CNN.
Commandant Admiral Thad Allen, who was put in charge of the federal oil spill response on Saturday, also stressed on "State of the Union" that "BP is the responsible party."
Napolitano called comparisons of the adminstration's spill response to President Bush's much-maligned Hurricane Katrina response a "total mischaracterization."
"We were stepping on the neck of BP to do everything we can do" since the explosion, Salazar said. "We've been on top of this every minute."
Salazar's boots kept walking on CNN, where he said, "Our job is keep our boot on the neck of British Petroleum and make sure they live up to their responsibilities."
Allen said on Fox that high surf and wind conditions were causing problems for boom deployment in the Gulf to rein in the spill.
"We have to stop this oil from where it is emanating from on the sea floor," Allen said on CNN.
Their comments come as Capitol Hill lawmakers are probing both BP’s and the federal government’s response to the widening spill.
Salazar will appear before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee May 6.
On Friday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee said it would hold a May 12 hearing with top officials from BP America, rig owner Transocean and drilling services contractor Halliburton.
The hearing, which will focus on the causes of the accident, will be in the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, which is lead by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).
Stupak and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) have sent the companies letters in recent days requesting information about the spill’s causes and accident response plans.
They are pressing BP and Transocean on issues including the failure of the rig’s “blowout preventer” to cap the well that is now spewing oil into the Gulf. A letter to Halliburton, a large oil services contractor, seeks information on its “cementing” activities on the well.
The committee is probing whether problems with cementing could have been a cause of the April 20 blowout at the Deepwater Horizon rig. The April 30 letter to Halliburton notes that cementing is a process used to plug wells and fill gaps between well pipes and holes drilled in the ocean floor.
Ben Geman contributed to this report