Obama declares BP will pay Gulf cleanup

WASHINGTON In Tuesday's address, 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.

The president said the nation will continue to fight the oil spill for "as long as it takes," but he vows that BP will pay for the damage it's caused. He said his administration will do whatever is necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from the spill.

Obama said officials will make BP pay for all costs associated with cleaning up the oil spill, the nation's worst environmental disaster. He said he would "inform" BP executives during a meeting on Wednesday 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.

A government panel of scientists said 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.

Still, 57 days 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 the disaster.

Latest Developments:

  • A drill ship resumed siphoning off oil gushing from the blown-out well after a bolt of lightning struck the vessel and ignited a fire that halted containment efforts, the company said. BP PLC spokesman Bill Salvin said the drill ship called the Discoverer Enterprise resumed processing oil Tuesday afternoon, about five hours after the fire caused an emergency shutdown. Engineers on the ship have been siphoning about 630,000 gallons of oil a day through a cap on top of the well. He said there was no damage reported to the containment cap, and the Coast Guard approved BP restarting the system.
  • BP said Tuesday it was speeding up payments for large commercial claims. The company said in a statement that it has approved initial payments toward 90 percent of large commercial claims filed as a result of financial losses in the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill. BP said it approved 337 payments totaling $16 million to businesses that have filed claims larger than $5,000 apiece. Initial payments began over the weekend and will be completed this week, the company said.

  • Obama warned that despite the best efforts to clean up the oil spill, more oil and more damage will occur before the spill is contained. He said that's why the government will also focus on recovery and restoration of the Gulf Coast. 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.
  • President Obama Tuesday signed into law a bill that makes more money available to the Coast Guard to pay for its response to the Gulf oil spill. The new law removes the $100 million limit that the Coast Guard can spend on the BP spill from a government trust fund used to pay cleanup costs. The Coast Guard could have run out of money to fight the spill if the spending cap was not lifted.
  • Obama said his administration has directed the BP oil company to mobilize more equipment and technology. He said that in the coming weeks, stepped-up effort will result in the capture of 90 percent of the oil spewing out of the well. The president said the completion of a relief well later in the summer is expected to "stop the leak completely."
  • Obama has selected a former federal prosecutor to take over the troubled government agency that oversees oil and gas development and has been accused of lax oversight. The White House announced that Michael R. Bromwich, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Justice Department inspector general, will lead a reorganization of the Minerals Management Service. The administration plans to break the MMS into three separate entities to eliminate conflicts of interest.
  • A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows for the first time a majority of Americans disapprove of how Obama has handled the devastating Gulf oil spill, though far more blame BP for what people call a sluggish two-month response. The survey found that 52 percent say they don't approve of Obama's handling, a shift from last month when a big chunk of people withheld judgment. The public is directing most of its ire at the oil company that leased the rig that caused the leak of millions of gallons of crude. A stunning 83 percent disapprove of BP's performance in the aftermath of the rig explosion.
  • The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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