Obama Seeks 'Independent Entity' To Handle Claims
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Deborah Amos.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And Im Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
President Obama will address the nation tonight about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The White House is pressing BP to put billions of dollars in an escrow fund to pay people affected. And we're joined this morning by the president's spokesman, Robert Gibbs.
Mr. Gibbs, welcome to the program.
Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (Press Secretary, White House): Good morning. How are you?
INSKEEP: Im doing fine, thank you very much. Do you have an agreement with BP on a compensation fund?
Mr. GIBBS: Steve, I'd say we're working on that with a whole host of entities. The point of this is to create, if need be through the legal authority we have, an independent entity to administer the claims process, to take it away from BP, and to ensure that people are getting their claims filled quickly, efficiently and transparently.
INSKEEP: You said the legal authority you have. What authority do you have to force BP to hand over billions of dollars prior to losing some lawsuit?
Mr. GIBBS: Well, again, we have legal authorities under the laws, as passed by the Congress, to deal with disasters such as this. And the president intends to use those authorities to ensure that the claims process for those damaged economically in the gulf is taken care of.
INSKEEP: But do you have authority for the president to say to BP, its CEO Tony Hayward, give me money, give it now?
Mr. GIBBS: Absolutely. BP is the responsible party. They have to pay for the cleanup, they have to pay for the restoration of the environmental damage that theyve done, and theyve got to pay the economic claims for those in the gulf region whose livelihoods have been damaged as a result of their mismanagement.
And they have to pay now - not later, after a court proceeding.
Mr. GIBBS: No, theyve got to pay now. They're on the hook just as millions 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, a hotel owner who's watching reservations for the summer be canceled.
INSKEEP: And $20 billion - is that the figure you want from BP?
Mr. GIBBS: Well, I've seen a lot of different figures. I think the key is this: That figure, whatever that number is, has to pay all the claims. And whatever figure is put into an escrow account on the front end does not in any way limit the amount of damages that BP is responsible for. Theyll have to make the citizens of the gulf whole, regardless of what that cost is.
INSKEEP: Mr. Gibbs, the state treasurer of Louisiana is one of a number of public officials, some of them Democrats, who are warning that a fund like this could push BP into bankruptcy, which would be disastrous for people who are expecting BP to pay them. Can BP get away from you like that?
Mr. GIBBS: No, I dont think they can. Obviously, BP is a large, very wealthy company with lots of assets and lots of cash. What our focus is on is holding that large, very wealthy company responsible for the damages that it caused. The law states exactly what it has to pay for, and thats what the president will hold them accountable for.
INSKEEP: Meaning, you're not worried about bankruptcy here.
Mr. GIBBS: I think if you look at the quarterly statements going back the last several quarters, how much money BP has made in profit - billions and billions of dollars - I think there's no doubt that they have not just the legal responsibility, but the financial wherewithal to make people whole, absolutely.
INSKEEP: We're talking with Robert Gibbs, presidential spokesman, here on MORNING EDITION.
And Mr. Gibbs, I want to ask a little bit about the cleanup along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Senator Bill Nelson - a Democrat, as you know, from Florida - said this the other day; this is a quote: The information is not flowing. The decisions are not timely. The resources are not produced. And as a result, you have a big mess.
Is he right about that?
Mr. GIBBS: Well, there's no doubt that we have a big mess. We have hundreds of thousand of gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, heading toward different parts of the shores. I don't think, though, that I would agree with his overall characterization.
There are tens of thousands of people in the gulf working. There are thousands of boats and vessels that have been on the water - literally for 57 days, for the entirety of this disaster, skimming oil, burning oil, removing oil, trying to plug the leak 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean, and doing all and anything that we can if - when oil comes ashore to clean it up.
INSKEEP: Very briefly though, there have been lots of stories of boats just sitting around, even people being paid for sitting around, with no instruction getting to them.
Mr. GIBBS: Well, I dont think that, in any way, represents the majority of whats happening. There's, again, thousands and thousand of vessels that are on the water. States that have hired fishermen that are now out of work because they can't fish in the gulf, attach skimming equipment to their boats in order to sweep up oil that has leaked into the gulf, and not allowing it to get to sensitive environmental areas.
INSKEEP: OK, Robert Gibbs, thanks very much. He's presidential spokesman.
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