Obama Tells Nation Of 'Battle Plan' To Fight Spill

President Obama made his first Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday night. The president says he will demand the chairman of BP set aside whatever money is needed to compensate the many people who have been hurt by the company's "recklessness."

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And I'm Deborah Amos.

Every time you think the Gulf oil spill couldn't seem any worse, it does. The government has once again revised its estimates of the size of the spill.

INSKEEP: It's now estimated at up to 60,000 barrels per day. There was a time when BP executives said it was 1,000 barrels per day.

AMOS: And with that number as a backdrop, the president looked into the TV cameras last night. He laid out a plan to contain the spill and make BP pay.

INSKEEP: He also turned a national disaster into a cause: clean energy.

We begin our coverage with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON: Sitting at his desk in the Oval Office, Mr. Obama used military language. He talked about his battle plan to confront an oil spill that was assaulting our shores and our citizens.

President BARACK OBAMA: Make no mistake: We will fight this spill with everything we've got for as long it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever's necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.

LIASSON: The president spoke just hours after returning from a two-day visit to the Gulf, where he met with local officials and business owners who were afraid and furious about the oil washing up on the beaches and seeping into the marshes.

Pres. OBAMA: The sadness and the anger they feel is not just about the money they've lost. It's about a wrenching anxiety that their way of life may be lost. I refuse to let that happen.

Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness.�And this fund will not be controlled by BP.�

LIASSON: Instead, the fund will be controlled by an independent third party. The White House hopes to be able to announce how much BP will set aside in escrow after the meeting with oil executives at the White House today.

Last night, the president also talked about a long-term commitment to the Gulf region.

Pres. OBAMA: Beyond compensating the people of the Gulf in the short-term, it's also clear we need a long-term plan to restore the unique beauty and bounty of this region. The oil spill represents just the latest blow to a place that's already suffered multiple economic disasters and decades of environmental degradation that has led to disappearing wetlands and habitats. And the region still hasn't recovered from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.�That's why we must make a commitment to the Gulf Coast that goes beyond responding to the crisis of the moment.

LIASSON: The president said he's chosen Secretary of the Navy and former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus to develop a long-term Gulf Coast restoration plan. This would be a major undertaking that could involve rerouting the course of the Mississippi River to flush the oil out of the marshes. The president said much of the cost would, again, be defrayed by BP. And then he turned to the much longer term.

Pres. OBAMA: Today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude. We cannot consign our children to this future.�The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now.�

LIASSON: The president delivered a ringing call to end the country's addiction to the fossil fuels and compared the search for alternative sources of energy to putting a man on the moon. But he wasn't very specific about what he would demand of energy legislation from Congress. White House aides say he still supports a tax on carbon, but he didn't mention it last night, an omission that probably disappointed environmentalists.

Pres. OBAMA: I'm happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party, as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels. Some have suggested raising efficiency standards in our buildings, like we did in our cars and trucks. Some believe we should set standards to ensure that more of our electricity comes from wind and solar power. Others wonder why the energy industry only spends a fraction of what the high-tech industry does on research and development.

LIASSON: But even before the president spoke, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, offered a prebuttal to his remarks, indicating how difficult it will be to find the votes the president needs for a comprehensive energy bill, one that increases the price of fossil fuels.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Republican Minority Leader): Americans want us to stop the oil spill first. And until this leak is plugged, they're not in any mood to hand over even more power in the form of a new national energy tax to a government that, so far, at least, hasn't lived up to their expectations in its response to this crisis.

LIASSON: And yet, the crisis at hand may represent the last chance this president has to push Congress to tackle the energy challenge.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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