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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Obama Calls BP "Reckless", Vows They Will Pay (Speech Video)

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Obama Accuses BP Of "Recklessness"

Dedicating new urgency to the Gulf oil spill, President Barack Obama accused BP of "recklessness" in the first Oval Office address of his presidency Tuesday night and swore not to rest until the company has paid for the damage it has caused to lives, businesses and shorelines.

He announced that he had asked former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan — to be funded by BP PLC — in concert with local states, communities, fishermen, conservationists and residents "as soon as possible."

Obama did not detail what this plan should include or how much it might cost, a price sure to be in the billions of dollars.

'We will make BP pay'

Whatever the bottom line, he declared to his prime-time television audience, "We will make BP pay."

Still, eight weeks into the crisis, oil continues to gush from the broken wellhead, millions of gallons a day, and Obama has been powerless to stem the leak. The sad episode has raised doubts about his leadership and his administration's response to what Obama has called the nation's worst environmental disaster.

The speech comes as a new poll shows a majority of Americans disapprove of how he has handled the Gulf disaster, though far more blame BP for what people call a sluggish two-month response.

A government panel of scientists said earlier Tuesday that the undersea well is leaking even more oil than previously thought, as much as 2.52 million gallons a day — or enough to fill the Oval Office more than 22 times. The total spilled so far could be as much as 116 million gallons.

BP has had only modest success so far in stemming the flood of oil, but Obama said that within weeks "these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well." Later in the summer, he said, the company should finish drilling a relief well to stop the leak completely.

Much of the president's speech was devoted to a recitation of steps his administration has already taken — "from the very beginning," he said — to clean the oil, help the distraught people of the Gulf and prevent another environmental crisis.

"We will fight this spill with everything we've got for as long it takes," Obama said.

Likened to long epidemic

Likening that process to a long epidemic instead of a single crushing disaster like an earthquake or hurricane, he said the nation could be tied up with the oil and its aftermath for months "and even years."

Looking ahead to his showdown Wednesday morning with BP executives, Obama said he would "inform" them that the company must set aside whatever resources are required to make whole all local residents and businesses hurt by the spill and to repair the immense ecological damage wrought by the oil.

That meeting was to be followed by a presidential statement — his fourth planned remarks on the spill in three days. Later in the week, BP leaders take the Washington hot seat again, appearing before more congressional hearings.

However, Obama said that the new Gulf restoration plan would go beyond just repairing the effects of the crude on a unique, teeming ecology that was already battered by the 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"We must make a commitment to the Gulf Coast that goes beyond responding to the crisis of the moment," the president said.

Obama also urged the nation and Congress to get behind his goal of passing sweeping energy and climate change legislation, a key domestic priority of his presidency that had become a long shot. Though Obama supports placing a price on heat-trapping carbon emissions, he did not directly state that.

"The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now," he said. "I say we can't afford not to change how we produce and use energy - because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater."

Oil executives grilled

On Capitol Hill, executives from other major oil companies turned on BP and defended their own drilling practices during a congressional hearing as they sought to stave off new government regulations in the wake of the spill.

Obama began the day in Pensacola, Fla., where he inspected the famous white sand beaches and met with local officials before heading back to the White House to deliver the first televised Oval Office message of his presidency.

The president walked along Pensacola Beach with Gov. Charlie Crist and Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen. People were swimming in the emerald green water. But oil is nearby even if it can't be seen, according to Allen.

Onlookers chanted "Save our beach, save our beach."

Earlier Tuesday, the White House announced former Justice Department inspector general Michael Bromwich as Obama choice's for the new head of the Minerals Management Service, the agency that regulates the oil industry. Bromwich replaces Liz Birnbaum, who resigned in May in the fallout over the government's response to the spill.

BP said a small fire believed caused by lightning briefly shut down a system capturing oil from the gushing well on Tuesday. The fire on the drilling ship Discoverer Enterprise was quickly extinguished, the company said, and the oil capture operation resumed.

BP also announced it is accelerating the payments of commercial large-loss claims to get money into the hands of businesses more quickly. BP executive Bob Fryar said the company has thus far paid about $70 million in claims — the vast majority paid to individuals, especially those working in fishing and tourism. Fryar said the average time from claim to check is four days for individuals and about seven days for commercial entities.

Oil in the hot seat

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Oil executives testifying before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy and the environment Tuesday defended their own drilling practices.

Exxon Mobil Chairman Rex Tillerson told the panel it is crucial to find out what caused the offshore rig to explode in April, killing 11 workers and creating the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.

"This incident represents a dramatic departure from the industry norm in deepwater drilling," Tillerson said.

Shell Oil Co President Marvin Odum testified, "We remain confident in our drilling expertise and procedures, built on a foundation of multiple required safety

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Sources: MSNBC, Google Maps

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