PENSACOLA, FL -- President Obama wrapped up a two-day, three state tour of the Gulf Coast with a speech at the Naval Air Station here, promising that his administration would do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to help the region recover.
He drew applause from the crowd of service members with a pledge to make sure that BP pays the costs of clean up and for the economic effects of the oil that has been pouring into the Gulf of Mexico for more than a month, closing down fisheries, fouling beaches, killing wildlife, hurting tourism, and leading the government to declare a six-month moratorium on exploratory drilling in deep water.
This swing marks the president's fourth trip to the Gulf since the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history began in late April. He visited Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, meeting with state and local officials and business owners, visiting staging facilities for responders, and getting frequent updates on clean up and containment efforts from Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander and a constant travel companion on this trip.
"Let me say to the people of Pensacola and the Gulf Coast: I am with you, my administration is with you for the long haul to make sure BP pays for the damage that it has done and to make sure that you are getting the help you need to protect this beautiful coast and to rehabilitate the damaged areas, to revitalized this region and to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again," Obama said. "That is a commitment I am making to the people of Florida and people all across this Gulf."
Sensitive to criticism that the president was slow to respond to this disaster, the White House has been eager to show the American public that Obama is engaged and that the administration is in control.
Adm. Allen announced today the establishment of three deputy incident commanders to lead oil impact mitigation and clean-up efforts in Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida -- a move meant to help improve coordination between local governments and provide aid to the affected communities.
After the speech, the president was headed back to Washington, where he is set to deliver his first address to the nation from the Oval Office. In his remarks, according to a White House official, Obama will talk about clean-up efforts and what will be necessary to restore the Gulf; declare his help to protect those who have been hurt economically; outline the changes he believes are necessary to prevent a repeat of such a disaster; and discuss steps to reduce the country's dependence on oil and fossil fuels.
Administration officials have stressed the need for a prompt and timely process for handling claims against BP. They want the company to set up an escrow account -- administered by a third party -- to deal with damage claims, a topic Obama will address when he meets with BP officials at the White House on Wednesday.