In a prime-time speech tonight, and in a meeting with BP tomorrow, President Obama and his administration plan to press BP to create a large escrow account, to pay for economic and environmental damages caused by the ongoing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
Robert Gibbs, the president's press secretary, told NPR's Steve Inskeep that Obama wants "to make sure people are getting claims quickly and efficiently."
"They're on the hook, just as million in the gulf are on the hook for money that they may owe on a boat, money that they're going to lose because they're not fishing, or a hotel worker or hotel owner who's watching reservations for the summer be canceled," he said. "BP is a responsible party."
They have to pay for the clean up. They have to pay for the restoration of the environmental damage they have done. And they've got to pay the economic claims for those in the Gulf region whose livelihoods have been damaged as a result of their mismanagement. ... They've got to pay now.
In an interview that aired on Morning Edition, Gibbs did not put a specific figure on the size of the proposed account.
"That number has to pay all the claims," he said, adding that the size of the account won't be fixed.
What figure is put in an escrow account on the front end does not limit what damages BP is responsible for.
According to Gibbs, the administration believes it has the authority to compel the company to set aside the money in escrow, without any court proceedings, based on precedent.
Tonight, after the president concludes a trip to the Gulf Coast, he will address the nation from the Oval Office. Tomorrow, Obama is scheduled to meet with BP's executive leadership, including CEO Tony Hayward, at the White House.
The company has said repeatedly that it will pay "all legitimate claims" brought against it, but there have been compaints that it isn't easy to file for restitution.
Gibbs dismissed concerns that mounting claims, coupled with the proposed escrow account, could push BP into bankruptcy.
I think that, if you look at the quarterly statements going back, how much money BP has made in profits, I think there is no doubt they have not just the legal responsibility, but the financial wherewithal to be held responsible.