President Barack Obama says the federal government is committed "for the long haul" to help residents along the Gulf of Mexico deal with the economic and environmental impact of the BP oil spill. The president spoke on his fourth visit to the affected area, ahead of an address to the nation on Tuesday and a meeting with top BP officials on Wednesday.
Meeting with residents and business owners, and accompanied by state and local officials, the president spent the day visiting oil spill response and coordination centers in Mississippi and Alabama.
After a briefing by U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is in charge of the overall government response, the president said he wants people along the Gulf of Mexico to know that the government, as he put it, is in this for the long haul.
Mr. Obama said he is committed to ensuring that people and businesses in the area are adequately compensated for damages and losses they are experiencing, adding that problems remain with the process of filing claims with BP.
At a stop in Theodore, Alabama, the president toured a facility repairing booms used in containing oil, and spoke to workers. He pledged that the government will help Gulf residents deal with the disaster and its effects.
"I promise you this - things are going to return to normal," he said. "This region that has known a lot of hardship will bounce back just like it has bounce back before. We are going to do everything we can, 24/7, to make sure that communities get back on their feet."
With large areas of the Gulf closed to fishing and the industry reeling from the impact of the spill, the president announced what he called a comprehensive coordinated multi-agency initiative to ensure that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat.
BP is continuing efforts to increase the amount of oil being captured from its damaged underwater well. Scientists estimate that between 950,000 and 2.5 million barrels of oil have already spilled.
Referring to last week's upward revision of the amount of oil leaking from the well, with substantially higher numbers than originally estimated by BP, Admiral Allen said President Obama and government officials want to make sure that BP is applying sufficient resources to deal with the spill.
"What has happened [is] this thing has evolved and as we have been able to refine the flow rate estimates," he said. "And as you know, we revised them upward last week. We want to make sure that BP has enough capacity on hand to handle the increased flow rate estimates."
Allen said BP has a goal of capturing 28,000 barrels of oil from the leaking well by the end of the week. But knowing what percentage this is of the total amount leaking from the well will not be possible until a tight seal is on the well.
In advance of President Obama's meeting this week with BP executives, the government is in discussions with the company on a multi-billion-dollar fund that would pay out on claims filed by individuals and businesses.
"So far, we have had a constructive conversation and my hope is that by the time the [BP] chairman and I meet on Wednesday that we have made sufficient progress and we can start actually seeing a structure that would be in place," he said.
The White House says that among the issues the president will discuss with BP officials will be the size of the fund, which would be administered by a third party.
As for President Obama's Tuesday evening address to the nation, White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said the president will outline steps taken so far to stop the flow of oil, mitigate the impact of oil that has come ashore and efforts to ensure that people affected by the disaster are compensated.