Theodore: US President Barack Obama said he hoped for an outline deal with BP by Wednesday on a multi-billion dollar fund for oil disaster victims and vowed to use all his power to heal the Gulf coast.
Obama lunched with locals, talked up tourism and seafood industries and checked on disaster mitigation efforts during his fourth trip to the region, on the eve of his Oval Office address on America`s worst environmental disaster.
It was another rough day for London-based energy giant BP, as its already reeling stock took another pounding. The company did however unveil new plans to staunch the flow of oil for a busted undersea Gulf of Mexico well.
Following days of lashing BP over its response to the crisis, Obama said on Monday talks with the London-based giant had been "constructive" after the administration pressed for an escrow account to compensate disaster victims.
While it was still too early to comment on preliminary discussions, Obama raised hopes of a breakthrough before his planned meeting with BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg at the White House on Wednesday.
"My hope is that by the time the chairman and I meet on Wednesday that we`ve made sufficient progress that we can start actually seeing a structure that would be in place," he said at a staging post for oil clean-up efforts.
White House deputy spokesman Bill Burton said that the fund, to quickly process legitimate claims for compensation for people who had seen livelihoods hit by the disaster, would reach "billions" of dollars.
Obama`s visit to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida represented a new bid to engineer a political pivot point in the two-month environmental and political crisis unleashed by the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in April.
His three previous visits to the disaster zone took in Louisiana, but the expanded itinerary was a sign of the widening footprint of the crisis spawned by the massive oil slick, and the rising criticism of his own performance.
Obama also lamented the threat to the unique Gulf of Mexico coastline, with its wetlands brimming with wildlife, sparkling white beaches and lucrative fishing industry in waters teeming with shrimps, crabs and edible fish.
A large chunk of those fishing grounds are now closed, as the oil pours out of a busted undersea well BP has tried but failed to plug, and some fishing fleets are tied up in port with little hope of resuming work.
Obama said he understood fears that the thick oil slick, which has clogged wetlands, fouled beaches and killed seabirds, could "have a long-term impact on a way of life that has been passed on for generations”.
He said his administration would do "everything in our power to protect the Gulf way of life so that it`s there for our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren."
In Gulfport, Mississippi, the President munched on shrimp and mini crab cakes to show local seafood was safe and implored Americans to visit the dazzling white sands of the southern coast.
Later in Theodore, Alabama, he said: "Let me be clear. Seafood from the Gulf today is safe to eat but we need to make sure it stays that way," announcing a multi-agency effort to protect the regional seafood industry.
To prove his point, Obama also had seafood for dinner, ordering crab claws, crawfish tails, ribs and nachos at a restaurant on route to his overnight stop of Pensacola, Florida.