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On the Ground in Louisiana

President Obama travels to Louisiana to meet with National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen, state and local officials and business owners and families affected by the BP oil spill.

Ed. Note: The live chat with Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner origninally scheduled for June 7 has been rescheduled for Friday at 12:30PM EDT, we hope you'll join us


Today, President Obama travelled to Louisiana to meet with National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen, Governors of Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida, members of Congress and local officials to discuss efforts to stop the leak, contain and clean up the oil, and restore the Gulf Coast.

The President began his remarks with an update about the most recent attempts to cap the well:     

I know that a lot of the press may be curious about what’s happening in terms of the attempts to cap the well.  I don't want to go into the technical details here.  I'd prefer Thad to give an update when he has had a chance to talk directly with command and control about what’s happening there.  But it does appear that the cap, at least for now, is holding; that some hydrocarbons are being sent up to the surface; and that they are still ratcheting up the amount of oil and gas that's being extracted -- they’re doing it carefully so that they don't dislodge or disrupt the cap in some fashion.

We will know more over the next 24 to 48 hours.  And it is way too early to be optimistic.  But we're just going to keep on monitoring it, and Thad will give you a more thorough briefing when he knows more.

We spent a lot of time here just talking about the logistics of the response on the shore as oil begins to come in.  And everybody here has particular concerns because we've got limited resources.  We're trying to get more boom, for example, into the places that are needed.  We deployed initially a lot of boom here in Louisiana.  That meant that some in Alabama wasn’t where it was supposed to be.  Governor Riley has been appropriately concerned -- that's a mild way of putting it -- about what’s being done with respect to Alabama plans.  And what I told him was, is that Thad Allen will be meeting with him individually with respect to the Alabama plan and if he’s not satisfied with the answers that are given over the course of this weekend, then he’s going to call me and we're going to meet and sort this out.

Here in Louisiana, where the oil has hit most rapidly, there are still areas where, for example, the mayor, here, was talking to fishermen; they want to try to build up some barriers to estuaries and areas that are particularly vulnerable.  Thad Allen is going to be following up with each of the parish presidents in terms of figuring out what’s going on.

The President also emphasized the importance of ensuring quick and fair processing of all financial damage claims by residents and businesses in the Gulf Coast region:

We also talked about claims.  And this is an area where I think everybody has a lot of concern.  My understanding is, is that BP has contracted for $50 million worth of TV advertising to manage their image during the course of this disaster.  In addition, there are reports that BP will be paying $10.5 billion -- that's billion with a B -- in dividend payments this quarter.

Now, I don't have a problem with BP fulfilling its legal obligations.  But 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.  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 fishermen or small businesses here in the Gulf who are having a hard time. 

We’ve assigned federal folks to look over BP’s shoulder and to work with state and local officials 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.  And what that means is that if a fisherman got a $5,000 check, and the next time he goes in, because it’s a new month, suddenly BP is saying, well, we need some documentation and this may take six months to process, or 60 days to process -- or 30 days to process, for that matter -- that fisherman, with all his money tied up in that boat, just may not be able to hang on for another 30 days.  He may lose his boat and his livelihood.

So the key point I’m making here is, this has been a disaster for this region and people are understandably frightened and concerned about what the next few months and the new few years may hold.  I am absolutely confident about the resilience of this area long term, but if we can make sure that BP is doing the right thing on the front end, it’s going to make it an awful lot easier for us to fully recover on the back end.  And by the way, it may end up being cheaper for BP. 

After his meeting with Admiral Allen and other state and local officials the President travelled by motorcade to Grande Isle, Louisiana to meet with families and small business owners affected by the oil spill.