President Barack Obama delivers a televised address on the BP...

President Barack Obama delivers a televised address on the BP oil spill from the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday. (June 15, 2010) Credit: AP

WASHINGTON - Calling the widening oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced," President Barack Obama vowed Tuesday in a prime-time address that the oil would be cleaned up and the Gulf's ecology restored, and that oil company BP would fully compensate the spill's victims.

"We will fight this spill with everything we've got for as long it takes," Obama said. "We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever's necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy."

The president also urged the nation to "tackle our addiction to fossil fuels," prevailing upon Congress to pass a comprehensive bill that would embrace alternative sources of energy.

He said he would not tolerate inaction.

"The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is too big and too difficult to meet," Obama said. "You see, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II. The same thing was said about our ability to harness the science and technology to land a man safely on the surface of the moon. And yet, time and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom."

The speech - the first of Obama's presidency delivered from the Oval Office - came as the government increased its estimates of oil flowing from a pipe a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico, saying that as much as 60,000 barrels a day could be leaking into the ocean, and as oil company BP continued its efforts to stem the spread of the spill.

The president vowed that the administration and BP would clean up "90 percent" of the oil in the Gulf before the end of the summer.

But he also spoke of damage to the region that would linger for years.

And he outlined a long-term plan to restore the "unique beauty and bounty" of the Gulf Coast wetlands and habitats, battered by decades of erosion, hurricanes and saline infiltration. He said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus would develop the plan, working with local officials, fishermen and conservationists.

In part, the president's address was a bid to reverse sinking public approval of his administration's efforts to respond to the disaster. Obama offered an unswerving defense of the White House's actions in the days and weeks after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20. "Because of our efforts, millions of gallons of oil have already been removed from the water," he said.

A poll released Tuesday by The Associated Press found that 52 percent of those surveyed did not approve of Obama's handling of the spill. That's up sharply from a month ago, but far more were critical of BP: 83 percent disapproved of the company's performance in the wake of the rig explosion that has sent millions of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf.

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