Workers clean oil off the beach in Grand Isle, La. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Updated 4:51 p.m. ET | President Barack Obama struck an optimistic tone over the ongoing oil disaster Monday afternoon, saying that “things are going to return to normal” on the stricken Gulf Coast after much pain and frustration, and that the polluted waters will eventually be in better shape than before the leak began.
“Let me be clear: Seafood from the Gulf today is safe to eat, ” he said, adding that his administration is intensifying monitoring efforts to make sure it stays that way.
The president said the full resources of the government are being mobilized to confront the oil disaster in a region that has known “a lot of hardship.” Recovering from the spill, he said, will be painful for businesses and residents, but things will eventually go back to normal.
The White House announced earlier Monday that it had wrested an apparent agreement from BP PLC to set up an independent, multibillion-dollar compensation fund for people and businesses suffering from the spill’s effects, The Associated Press reported.
Mr. Obama said the goal was to pay legitimate claims “justly, fairly, promptly.”
President Barack Obama will travel to the Gulf Coast on Monday to visit three states affected by the oil spill disaster, taking a ferry trip on the oil-slicked waters around Alabama’s vulnerable barrier islands. It will be the president’s fourth visit to the region since the spill began six weeks ago, and his first to the states east of Louisiana where oil is now washing up on shore.
On Tuesday, the president will return to Washington to make his first national address on the disaster, which will also be the first time he will speak to the nation from the Oval Office.
Then, on Wednesday, he will meet with BP executives. Administration officials have said he will ask BP to establish an independently administered victims’ compensation fund to pay for the many damage claims that will be filed against the company.
“We want to make sure that money is escrowed for the legitimate claims that are going to be made and are being made by businesses down in the gulf, people who have been damaged by this,” White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press.
White House officials have not yet put a specific number on the fund, but Senate Democrats on Sunday sent a letter to BP asking the company to set aside $20 billion.
BP officials said the company’s board is holding an emergency session to discuss the victims’ fund and other issues on Monday, but will not announce a decision before the White House meeting.
“We are considering all these issues and look forward to constructive conversations on Wednesday in the White House,” senior BP spokesman Andrew Gowers told the New York Times.
But the Washington Post reported that behind the scenes the atmosphere is tense ahead of the negotiations. BP has said that it will pay for all damage claims associated directly with the spill. But other issues remain sticky — administration officials, including Interior secretary Ken Salazar and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, have maintained the company should also pay the lost wages of oil workers affected by the moratorium on deep water drilling. And the president has said that the company should not pay dividends to shareholders while the spill is going on.
“BP will not hand over a blank check to anyone, whether it’s the administration or an independent mediator,” an anonymous source familiar with senior BP executives’ thinking told the Washington Post. “BP will constructively engage in a process — on the basis of transparent and pre-agreed rules — a claims oversight process. That’s a different matter.”
Meanwhile, BP began on Sunday to use underwater robots to position pressure sensors around the oil leak to more accurately measure the rate of oil flow. On Friday, a panel of federal and independent scientists announced that according to its latest estimate, approximately 20,000 to 40,000 barrels of oil per day have been leaking from the damaged well — a significant increase from the panel’s previous estimate.
“We think we need some independent pressure readings to validate the estimates that have been made by the scientists,” Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said on CBS’s Face the Nation.
BP is currently capturing about 15,000 barrels of oil per day through a containment cap system, and said in a statement Monday that it is bringing in more ships and equipment to increase that capture capacity over the next several weeks.