BP will pay, says Obama

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama lashed out at BP in the first Oval Office address of his presidency Tuesday, accusing the British oil giant of recklessness and swearing not to rest until the company has paid for the damage it has caused.

President Barack Obama is photographed after delivering a televised address from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington

President Barack Obama is photographed after delivering a televised address from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama lashed out at BP in the first Oval Office address of his presidency Tuesday, accusing the British oil giant of recklessness and swearing not to rest until the company has paid for the damage it has caused.

The president, in a prime-time speech that sought to reassure the country he was in command of the crisis, said the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has caused much sadness and anger and he warned there would be more damage before the spill is contained.

“We will make BP pay,” he said.

Many Americans are angry by what they see as the government’s slow response to their country’s worst environmental disaster. Obama has been scrambling to show he is doing everything he can. But the government doesn’t have the technology to stop a spill at such depth, forcing Obama to rely on BP to fix it.

The speech capped a two-day inspection tour of the stricken Gulf of Mexico region, and was lent new urgency as scientists announced the spill could be worse than previously thought. It comes just ahead of his meeting in the White House on Wednesday with top BP executives.

Obama called the Gulf of Mexico oil spill “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced” and will take years to combat.

Obama said that “unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it is not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days.”

He said the millions of gallons (litres) of crude oil that have gushed into Gulf waters from a broken well “are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years.”

The United States will offer whatever additional assistance is needed to coastal states to help them deal with the Gulf oil spill, he said.

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

Obama did not detail what this plan should include.

The new Associated Press-GfK poll released Tuesday found 52 per cent of those surveyed don’t approve of Obama’s handling of the spill, a shift from last month when a big chunk of people withheld judgment.

But 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 per cent disapprove of BP’s performance in the aftermath of the April 20 rig explosion, while Obama’s overall job performance rating stayed virtually the same at 50 per cent.

Earlier Tuesday, a government panel of scientists said the oil spill was leaking between 1.47 million and 2.52 million gallons a day — an increase over previous estimates that put the maximum size of the spill at 2.2 million gallons per day.

Obama also 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.