Obama knocks BP for paying out dividends after spill

After a cap is placed over the blown-out well, oil is seen continuing to spew from the well. (No audio)
By Michael D. Shear and Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 5, 2010

Obama warned BP officials Friday against "nickel-and-diming" the economic victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill even as the company spends billions of dollars to pay out dividends and millions for an ad campaign to burnish its image.

The stern statement, reminiscent of last year's presidential finger-wagging at big bonuses for bank executives, came as the company struggled with a cap on the leak at the seafloor and as local fishermen and small-business owners expressed fear to the president about the nearing oil slick.

"I want BP to be very clear they've got moral and legal obligations here in the gulf for the damage that has been done," Obama said in brief remarks after meeting in New Orleans with top federal and state officials overseeing the gulf crisis.

"And what I don't want to hear is, when they're spending that kind of money on their shareholders and spending that kind of money on TV advertising, that they're nickel-and-diming fisherman or small businesses here in the gulf who are having a hard time," the president said.

Company officials said BP had successfully placed a cap over a pipe connected to the damaged well, and the national incident commander, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, said the company was collecting as much as 1,000 barrels a day. But the area where the cap is attached continued to belch forth clouds of oil and gas, clearly visible on live video feeds.

"It's not a perfect seal, so if there's enough pressure, the oil can actually get through the rubber gasket and get out," Allen said.

The White House has been fighting back aggressively against criticism that Obama has been too slow to respond and too personally aloof from the human tragedy unfolding along the Gulf Coast.

Asserting control

In his third visit to the region since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, Obama sought to highlight the government's control of the situation and to show empathy for the region's victims. During his trip, officials announced he will meet at the White House next week with the families of the eleven men killed on the rig.

At Camardelle's Live Bait and Boiled Seafood in Grand Isle, La., Obama met with an oyster fisherman, a marina owner, two store owners and a shrimper. They sat around a picnic table overlooking the water, two shrimping boats docked behind them. As Obama's motorcade made its way to the meeting, families along the route held signs proclaiming "HELP US!" and "God Help us all." On one, Obama's "Hope" poster had the words "What now?" scrawled across his forehead.

It was on behalf of that sentiment that the president appeared most animated, telling reporters that he had assigned officials to make sure BP is not being miserly with its support for the region.

He said they will "look over BP's shoulder . . . to make sure that claims are being processed quickly, fairly, and that BP is not lawyering up essentially when it comes to these claims. They say they want to make it right. That's part of their advertising campaign. Well, we want them to make it right."

Following Obama's remarks, BP announced that the company would soon begin sending a second round of payments to Gulf Coast residents and business owners, bringing to $84 million the total amount the company has spent to offset lost income or profit.

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