Obama: BP will pay for ‘oil spill epidemic’
In his first national address from the Oval Office, President Barack Obama vowed to make BP pay for the damage caused by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Obama, who is due to meet BP executives this week, is expected to tell them they must set up a fund to compensate those fishermen and other businesses affected by the spill.
“Already, this oil spill is the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced. And unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it’s not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days. The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years,” said the US president.
He added that despite the best efforts of the ongoing clean-up operations, it has to be recognised the oil has already caused damage to the US coastline and its wildlife.
“Sadly, no matter how effective our response is, there will be more oil and more damage before this siege is done.
“For generations, men and women who call this region home have made their living from the water. That living is now in jeopardy. I’ve talked to shrimpers and fishermen who don’t know how they’re going to support their families this year. I’ve seen empty docks and restaurants with fewer customers – even in areas where the beaches are not yet affected. I’ve talked to owners of shops and hotels who wonder when the tourists might start coming back. The sadness and the anger they feel is not just about the money they’ve lost. It’s about a wrenching anxiety that their way of life may be lost.”
Obama promised that when he meets the BP chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, he will inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s “recklessness”.
This fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, Obama said the account would be administered by an independent third party.
In his address, the president also praised the patience and optimism of the Gulf’s fishermen throughout the crisis.
“Each year, at the beginning of shrimping season, the region’s fishermen take part in a tradition that was brought to America long ago by fishing immigrants from Europe. It’s called ‘The Blessing of the Fleet’, and today it’s a celebration where clergy from different religions gather to say a prayer for the safety and success of the men and women who will soon head out to sea – some for weeks at a time.
“The ceremony goes on in good times and in bad. It took place after Katrina, and it took place a few weeks ago – at the beginning of the most difficult season these fishermen have ever faced.
“And still, they came and they prayed. For as a priest and former fisherman once said of the tradition, ‘The blessing is not that God has promised to remove all obstacles and dangers. The blessing is that he is with us always’, a blessing that’s granted ‘even in the midst of the storm’.”
In its response to Obama’s speech, BP said in a statement that it shared the goal of cleaning up the oil and helping the people affected by the spill.
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