Obama, demanding action, meets with BP execs

BP oil company officials, including chief executive Tony Hayward, arrive at the White House for a meeting with President Obama.
By Scott Wilson and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 16, 2010; 11:59 AM

President Obama launched a White House meeting with BP executives Wednesday morning as oil continued to gush from the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico, the latest effort by the administration to seize control of the response to the nation's worst-ever environmental disaster.

Joined by Vice President Biden, Adm. Thad Allen and other top officials, Obama was expected to discuss efforts to halt the oil spill, clean up coastal areas and establish escrow accounts to compensate those who have been harmed by what the president described Tuesday night as BP's "recklessness."

BP officials expected to participate in the Roosevelt Room session included chairman Carol-Henric Svanberg, chief executive Tony Hayward and managing director Bob Dudley, the White House said.

Tuesday night, Obama urged the American people to rally behind legislation that would begin changing the way the country consumes and generates energy, saying the expanding spill in the Gulf of Mexico is "the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now."

In his first Oval Office address, Obama compared the need to end the country's "addiction to fossil fuels" to its emergency preparations for World War II and the mission to the moon. Hours after the government sharply increased its estimate of how much oil is flowing into the gulf, the president warned that risks will continue to rise because "we're running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water." He called for fast Senate action on an energy bill that has already passed the House.

"There are costs associated with this transition, and some believe we can't afford those costs right now," Obama said. "I say we can't afford not to change how we produce and use energy, because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security and our environment are far greater."

Even before the president addressed a prime-time television audience, congressional Republican leaders warned him not to use what he described as "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced" to further his political agenda. But beyond the urgency of his appeal, his remarks were largely an 18-minute compilation of what he has said about the spill over the past several weeks.

His audience this time extended well beyond the Gulf Coast, where he just concluded a two-day visit, to an electorate that mostly disapproves of the way he is handling the crisis.

The fact that Obama himself chose to deliver his message from the Oval Office underscored the extent of the disaster, both in terms of its environmental and economic impact on the gulf region and the political ramifications it holds in a midterm election year. The spill, which began April 20, has challenged the administration's cultivated image of competence and Obama's skill in using the right tone to discuss a widening environmental catastrophe that is in many ways out of his control.

Obama is expected to speak to reporters from the Rose Garden after Wednesday's meeting with BP executives.

The government released new figures Tuesday showing that far more oil is flowing from the seafloor than believed as recently as last week. The Flow Rate Technical Group said as much as 60,000 barrels (2.5 million gallons) of oil a day is escaping from the damaged well, a 50 percent increase from the last estimate.

BP announced plans earlier this week to capture 53,000 barrels (2.2 million gallons) of oil a day by the end of June. But the new figure highlights the extent of the challenge of plugging the leak, and the threat facing an increasingly frustrated and fearful Gulf Coast as the summer tourist season begins.

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