The White House on Monday kept its “boot” on the throat of BP, despite the British energy giant’s assurance that it is “absolutely” responsible for paying to cleanup the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The Obama administration positioned itself as the “oversight” authority for the unfolding environmental disaster, stressing once again that BP, as operator of the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig, had a legal obligation to foot the bill.
Influential senators also ratcheted up pressure on British Petroleum, introducing a bill that would raise the liability of oil firms after a disaster to 10 billion dollars.
BP held responsible
Political rancor mounted with an end to the crisis still elusive, as frantic efforts went on in the Gulf to plug the gushing oil leak, disperse a huge slick on the surface and protect the shoreline.
BP management, meanwhile, was meeting top administration officials on Monday to discuss the operation to cap the well and the threatened ecological catastrophe for fishing grounds and vulnerable wetlands and tourist beaches.
“We will keep our… boot on the throat of BP to ensure that they’re doing all that is necessary while we do all that is humanly possible to deal with this incident,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
The White House also declined to offer an assessment of BPs performance since the crisis erupted, as the shrimping, fishing, and tourism industries on the Gulf Coast braced for a devastating financial hit.
“I think the president will be pleased when there’s no more oil leaking on the floor of the ocean,” Gibbs said, a day after President Barack Obama flew to the Gulf coast to inspect disaster relief efforts.
“The president will be pleased when we’ve taken sufficient measures to ensure its spread isn’t vast,” Gibbs said.
BP liaible for ‘legitimate’ claims
Earlier, facing a quickly escalating public relations crisis, BP chief executive Tony Hayward accepted claims that the company was liable under US law for “legitimate” claims for costs and damages following the incident.
“We will absolutely be paying for the clean-up operation. There is no doubt about that. It’s our responsibility — we accept it fully,” he told National Public Radio on Monday.
He said his company was “mounting a massive response” to what he called a “tragic accident.”
But on CBS, Hayward added “this is not our accident, but it’s our responsibility to deal with it, to arrest the leak, to deal with the oil on the surface, to ensure that there is no or minimal environmental damage.”
“Where there are legitimate claims for business interruption, we will make them good.”
The White House said that Hayward and the head of BP’s American operations would meet Monday with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
BP leased the offshore oil platform, located some 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Louisiana’s fragile coast, from Houston-based contractor Transocean.
Oil from beneath the rig has formed a huge slick and the cleanup operation is estimated to cost several billion dollars.
Will affected gulf coast residents get BP payouts?
The White House said that Obama had already ordered his officials to work out a mechanism that would allow Gulf coast residents to get swift payouts from BP if their livelihoods were affected.
“BP is the responsible party, right? So if local fishermen can’t fish, that’s an economic loss that BP’s going to have to pay,” Gibbs said.
Senators from coastal states also fired a shot across BP’s bow, unveiling legislation to lift a cap on the amount big oil firms can be forced to pay for economic damages stemming from catastrophic spills.
The proposal would raise the figure from 75 million dollars to 10 billion dollars.
New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez noted that current US law, introduced after the Exxon Valdez spill Alaska in 1989, requires an oil company must pay for the cleanup of a spill from one of its facilities.
“But that’s little consolation to the small businesses, fisheries and local governments that will be left to clean up the economic mess that somebody else caused.
“We can’t let the burden fall on the taxpayers — we should ensure that those who cause the damage are fully responsible,” said Menendez.
In a statement, BP vowed to consider all compensation claims “promptly” and pay them quickly if justified, as part of a “robust process” to manage claims.