Obama to address nation over Gulf oil spill
He will speak from the Oval Office at 8 p.m. in a setting reserved for the most somber moments of U.S. national life.
Tue, Jun 15, 2010 at 07:21 AM
DISCUSSING DISASTER: President Barack Obama looks on during a meeting with House and Senate leaders to discuss the oil spill in the cabinet room of the White House. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
President Barack Obama will deliver his debut Oval Office address to the American people on June 15, as he seeks to reassure anxious Americans over the Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe.
Corporate oil chiefs, including the head of the U.S. division of BP which has been cast by many in Washington as the villain of the disaster, will meanwhile face a roasting by angry lawmakers in Congress.
Obama will fly back to Washington after a two-day, three-state tour of the scene of the spill, which has defied the combined and sometimes discordant efforts of the world's most powerful nation and one of the globe's mightiest energy companies.
He will speak from the Oval Office at 8 p.m. in a setting reserved for the most somber and important moments of U.S. national life.
Two months after an explosion aboard a BP-leased rig, a vast oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening beaches, devastating the fishing industry and wildlife, and set to leave a multibillion dollar bill in at least four states.
Amid rising political criticism of his leadership on the oil spill, and as polls show Americans believe he should be doing more, Obama must promise eventual triumph over nature.
But with crude expected to continue gushing into the Gulf of Mexico until BP completes the first of two relief wells in August, he must also steel Americans for a long slog before the spill is history.
"Now, I can't promise folks here in Theodore or across the Gulf Coast that the oil will be cleaned up overnight. It will not be. It's going to take time for things to return to normal," Obama said in Alabama Monday.
"But I promise you this, that things are going to return to normal."
Let the hearings begin
The House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Environment will hold a hearing Tuesday with senior officials from Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell, and BP's U.S. president and chairman Lamar McKay.
The hearing will be a warm-up act for a House panel on Thursday featuring under-fire BP CEO Tony Hayward.
McKay is likely to be grilled about BP's dividend payment to shareholders, with the Obama administration and U.S. lawmakers arguing that BP should compensate Gulf coast residents before rewarding company stock holders.
BP suffered a new blow Tuesday with ratings agency Fitch slashing the oil giant's credit rating by six notches from "AA" to "BBB", citing the impact of the oil spill.
U.S. media reported Monday that BP has retained financial advisors at Goldman Sachs, Blackstone Group and Credit Suisse to assess how it should handle spill-related liability.
But a spokeswoman at the company's London headquarters denied reports that the advisors were brought in to ward off a potential hostile takeover bid or the threat of a bankruptcy filing.
McKay will also likely be asked to shed light on the notion of a BP-funded escrow account under independent administration that would be used to speed compensation payments, demanded by law, to those who need them.
Obama said Monday that he hoped to get some kind of agreement on the structure of the fund by the time he meets BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg at the White House on Wednesday.
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and 53 other senators wrote to Hayward seeking the establishment of a $20-billion fund to pay for clean-up and economic recovery.
"Although creating this account at this level in no way limits BP's liability, we believe it will do more to improve BP's public image than the costly public relations campaign your company has launched," the sharply worded letter read.
Lawmakers Monday also accused BP of taking dangerous "shortcuts" in the days and hours before the April blast aboard the Deepwater Horizon, which killed 11 workers.
"BP appears to have made multiple decisions for economic reasons that increased the danger of a catastrophic well failure," Representatives Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak said in a letter to Hayward.
"If this is what happened, BP's carelessness and complacency have inflicted a heavy toll on the Gulf, its inhabitants, and the workers on the rig."
McKay will also be asked for data on BP's efforts to plug the gushing well, and exactly how much oil is being siphoned to the surface after a containment cap was placed over the ruptured well.
The company is currently siphoning about 15,000 barrels of oil a day to a ship on the surface, about half the amount believed to be streaming into the Gulf from the ruptured wellhead.
Copyright 2010 AFP American Edition