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Barack Obama Presses BP On Compensation In Oval Office Speech

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June 15, 2010: Sheryl Gay Stolberg / The New York Times – June 15, 2010

WASHINGTON — President Obama told the nation Tuesday night that he would instruct BP officials “set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners” harmed by the Gulf oil spill, and he named Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to develop a long-range plan to “restore the unique beauty and bounty of this region.”

During his first Oval Office address to the nation, Mr. Obama said he had asked Secretary Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, to consult with states, local communities, tribes, fisherman, business owners and conservationists to develop a plan as quickly as possible. “Make no mistake: we will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes,” Mr. Obama said. “We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever’s necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.”

As the government put out higher-than-ever estimates of the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf, Mr. Obama promised that BP would soon accelerate its cleanup. In the coming days, he said, the company will be able to capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well. Mr. Obama also outlined his plans to revamp the Minerals Management Service, the agency in charge of overseeing oil drilling, and he named Michael R. Bromwich, a seasoned investigator and former inspector general of the Justice Department, to take the lead in that effort.

But while he said that one lesson of the spill is that “we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement,” he also seized the moment to call for a sweeping energy bill that, he said, is necessary to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Mr. Obama made the case that the spill only highlights the need for his long-stalled energy bill. “The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight,” Mr. Obama said, adding, “Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.”

Mr. Obama has faced withering criticism that his administration did not react quickly enough to the spill, and he used the speech — and the solemn setting of the Oval Office — to argue that the cleanup effort has been massive: 30,000 workers across four states and thousands of ships in the Gulf. He said he had authorized the deployment of more than 17,000 members of the National Guard to “help stop the oil from coming ashore, clean beaches, train response workers, or even help with processing claims.”

Mr. Obama said he was using his speech to lay out a battle plan for the spill, involving cleaning up the oil, helping people who live and work along the Gulf of Mexico and making sure “that a catastrophe like this never happens again.”

Mr. Obama is insisting that BP set up an escrow account to pay claims to business owners and individuals who have been harmed as a result of what he called the “company’s recklessness.” Mr. Obama is to meet with company executives at the White House on Wednesday.

The president offered no specifics on how the fund would work, other than to say it will “not be controlled by BP,” but would rather be “administered by an independent, third party.” Who will pick that third party remains a topic of negotiations between BP and the White House, according to senior administration officials who spoke to reporters before the president’s address.

Democrats and their allies immediately seized on Mr. Obama’s address to say it could help swing the public behind comprehensive energy legislation, stalled in the Senate, that would address dependence on foreign oil and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are responsible for warming the planet.

“This could be a historic leadership moment,” the two chief backers of the Senate bill, Joseph I. Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, and John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, said in a joint statement, adding, “This isn’t a time for Band-Aids. It is time to be for something, instead of standing by and doing nothing as our energy habits cost us money and increase our dependence on countries that don’t like us.”

But Republicans, who are deeply opposed to Mr. Obama’s idea of capping carbon emissions, accused the president of manipulating the crisis for political gain. “Exploiting the tragedy in the Gulf to try to ram through a devastating job-killing national energy tax is more of the same Chicago-style politics that has the President’s approval ratings plummeting to an all-time low,” said Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee chairman.

Shortly before Mr. Obama’s address the White House announced that Mr. Bromwich, a Washington lawyer who served in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration, would lead the effort to overhaul the Minerals Management Service, the agency that has come under criticism for being too close to the oil companies it regulates. “For a decade or more, the cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency was allowed to go unchecked,” President Obama said in a statement released late Tuesday afternoon. “That allowed drilling permits to be issued in exchange not for safety plans, but assurances of safety from oil companies. That cannot and will not happen anymore.”

It was the first time in Mr. Obama’s presidency that he addressed the nation from the Oval Office, a venue that his predecessors tended to use sparingly and usually in times of national security crisis. Mr. Obama has increasingly spoken of the spill with that sense of urgency. He told Politico last week that the spill had the potential to have the same effect on energy and environmental policy as the Sept. 11 attacks had on national security policy.

Speaking before military troops at a naval air station in Pensacola Tuesday morning, Mr. Obama described the spill as an “assault on our shores” and invoked the need for a military response. “We’re going to fight back with everything we’ve got,” he said. “And that includes mobilizing our resources with the greatest military in the world.”

Administration officials ascribed the timing for the speech as marking what they called “an inflection point” in the nearly two-month-old crisis: the end of a phase in which BP tried and failed to stop the leak using the quickest available options and the beginning of the “new reality” that plugging the leak could take months and the cleanup months or even years past that. Mr. Obama has said all along that BP will pay for everything.

But while hopeful of announcing at a meeting with BP’s top executives on Wednesday an arrangement for BP to place billions of dollars into an independently administered escrow account, Mr. Obama provided no details on Tuesday. People close to BP say as asset-rich as the global oil giant is, its holdings are not so liquid that it can instantly set aside as many billions of dollars as the White House and leaders in Congress are seeking. Also being worked out are the terms by which BP would have to replenish the fund as it is drawn down.

BP officials are adamant that the company should not be liable for the lost wages of oil workers laid off because of the six-month moratorium that the Obama administration imposed on deepwater offshore drilling after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire. But Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other administration officials repeatedly have cited idled oil workers as among those who could press claims.

Mr. Obama’s speech came on a day in which a government panel raised its estimate of the flow rate of the damaged well. The panel declared that as much as 60,000 barrels a day could be gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. The new estimate is far above the figure of 5,000 barrels a day that the government and BP clung to for weeks after the spill began. It reflects a possible increase in the flow rate that occurred after BP cut an underwater pipe called a riser on June 3 to install a new device to capture part of the oil.

It is based on new information, including high-resolution video made after the riser cut, and on pressure readings taken by a device that was inserted this week into the equipment at the sea floor. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, was personally involved in using those pressure readings to help make the latest calculation. “This estimate brings together several scientific methodologies and the latest information from the sea floor, and represents a significant step forward in our effort to put a number on the oil that is escaping from BP’s well,” Secretary Chu said in a statement. “As we continue to collect additional data and refine these estimates, it is important to realize that the numbers can change.”

The new calculation, if it holds up, suggests that BP’s latest plans for capturing oil will be adequate, if only barely. The company has proven in recent days that it can capture a substantial amount of oil, roughly 15,000 barrels a day, though the operation was interrupted briefly on Tuesday by a small fire after the Discoverer Enterprise drilling ship was apparently struck by lightning. BP has outlined plans to deploy new equipment so that it can capture a minimum of 40,000 barrels a day by the end of June, and a minimum of 60,000 barrels a day by mid-July.

If the new range of flow estimates proves correct, and if BP is ultimately found guilty of gross negligence in actions it took that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, that would mean the company could be assessed fines of $66 million to $258 million a day. Those fines could come on top of payments for cleanup costs and economic damage to Gulf Coast businesses.

Fearful that the spill could ultimately cost BP tens of billions of dollars, investors have driven the company’s market valuation down by 48 percent since the spill began, erasing $91 billion of shareholder value. BP shares rose more than 2 percent during regular trading on Tuesday, but then gave up all that gain and more in after-hours trading, following release of the new flow estimates.

Obama’s Gulf Oil Disaster Speech: Full Text

The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: A few notes for alarm – Climate change legislation and Cap and Trade carbon taxes in support of the global warming hoax; Military deployments to the Gulf region for possible Martial Law and mass evacuations; No mention of deadly gases in the atmosphere as a result of dispersants, the oil, and toxic organic elements accompanying the geyser; No plan on how to stop the oil geyser; BP possibly going bankrupt to avoid payment compensation; No plan to save Gulf coast economies.  Conclusion: The Gulf of Mexico and surrounding regions are effectively dead for decades to come– SJH

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