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President Barack Obama is going back to the Gulf of Mexico, this time venturing on to new ground tainted by oil, before he speaks to the nation about what he’s seen in the afflicted states and what to expect in the weeks ahead.
Before the start Monday of a two-day trip to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, the White House announced Obama would order BP to establish a major victims’ compensation fund. When he returns to Washington on Tuesday evening Obama will use his first Oval Office speech as president to address the catastrophe.
Obama’s first three trips to the Gulf took him to the hardest-hit state, Louisiana. On Monday, Day 56 since BP’s leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and unleashed a fury of oil into the Gulf, he’s flying to Gulfport, Miss. From there he’ll travel along the coast to Alabama, where oil was washing up in heavy amounts along the shores Sunday in the eastern part of the state.
He’ll be met by state and local officials eager for him to show command, provide manpower and supplies and also tell the public that despite the catastrophe that’s crippling the fishing and tourist trades, many beaches are still open.
The day includes a speech and a ferry ride to view barrier islands in Alabama where oil has come ashore. Obama has not taken to the water in his previous Gulf visits.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley planned to ask the president for more leadership and coordination.
“Essentially we’re trying to manage this through a committee form, and it’s a committee where any one member has absolute veto power,” Riley said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I don’t think you can do that.” He said: “I think we’re going to have to set priorities. We’re going to have to implement a plan to achieve those goals if we’re going to get through this.”
Although BP is now siphoning off significant amounts of oil from its runaway well 5,000 feet below the ocean’s surface, the leak won’t be killed until relief wells are completed in August. At the same time more accurate estimates of the spill have brought the enormity of the disaster into focus. Already potentially more than 100 million gallons of crude expelled into the Gulf, far outstripping the Exxon Valdez disaster.
Now the nation may have to settle in for a long, hot summer of oil and gas spewing relentlessly from the ocean floor, driving residents to anger and despair, ruining precious marshlands, and poisoning pelicans, turtles and other wildlife.
BP deployed undersea sensors Sunday to better measure the flow of crude while drawing up new plans to meet a government demand that it speed up the containment effort ahead of Obama’s visit.
BP is currently capturing about 630,000 gallons of oil a day, but hundreds of thousands more are still escaping into the Gulf. The company has said that it could begin siphoning an additional 400,000 gallons a day starting Tuesday by burning it using a specialized boom being installed on a rig.
For Obama, it is imperative that he try to help guide the country through what’s to come. Obama will aim to accomplish that with his speech Tuesday and also detail specifics of the response to the oil spill, from cleanup to damages claims.
The next day, Wednesday, Obama will convene his first meeting with BP PLC executives, expected to include the company’s much-criticized CEO, Tony Hayward. The president will tell company officials he expects them to establish a multibillion-dollar compensation fund for people and companies damaged by the spill, to be administered by an independent panel, and that he will use his legal authority to ensure BP complies, White House officials said.
The steps add up to Obama’s most concerted efforts so far to assert leadership in face of the calamity, with the White House exercising every tool at its disposal — an on-scene visit by the president, a speech from the Oval Office, the use of the power of the presidency to extract concessions from BP. The White House hopes it will be enough to win back the confidence of a skeptical public.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press