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Obama warns BP against avoiding oil spill compensation

KENNER, La. - President Barack Obama said he doesn't want BP Plc "nickel and diming" fishermen and small businesses and that the company has a "moral and legal obligation" to compensate those affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I want to make sure that they are paying the folks in Louisiana for the havoc that they've wreaked, the folks in Alabama and the folks in Florida," Obama said in Louisiana Friday during his third visit to assess the damage and cleanup stemming from the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The president and his administration face pressure to step up efforts to combat the disaster threatening the local economy and wildlife. Government officials and BP say it may be August before the oil stops leaking.

The president will offer his condolences in person to relatives of the 11 people killed in the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, press secretary Robert Gibbs said. Obama sent a letter to each family extending an invitation to the White House on June 10, Gibbs said.

Obama said Friday the cap BP placed on the rig to collect oil "at least for now is holding," though it is "way too early to be optimistic." He said there are "encouraging signs" on a number of issues since last week.

The president said he's concerned that BP has contracted for $50 million in television ads to manage its image and is preparing to pay $10.5 billion to its shareholders this quarter.

Obama also warned BP against "lawyering up" to try to avoid compensating people affected by the spill.

"They need to make sure they are following through on these claims in an expeditious way," he said.

The president met with Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Charles Crist of Florida and Bob Riley of Alabama and a number of local officials.

Since the explosion aboard the rig, which BP leased from Transocean Ltd., administration officials have increasingly criticized BP, saying their faith in the company to contain the oil flowing from the mile-deep well was ill-placed.

As part of its pledge to hold BP accountable, federal officials on Friday billed the London-based company $69 million for costs incurred by the government so far to battle the spill.

BP's effort to divert oil from the leak to a ship on the surface is working, with a goal of capturing more than 90 percent of the spill, the company's chief operating officer for exploration and production, Doug Suttles, said on CBS' "Early Show" Friday.

Recovery of oil began at about midnight and may have reached a rate of 1,000 barrels a day, based on a BP estimate, Allen said during a conference call with reporters.

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