- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2010

PENSACOLA, Fl. — On the last leg of a two-day visit to three Gulf states, President Obama on Tuesday said his administration is going to do “whatever it takes for as long as it takes” to deal with the devastating oil spill that has ravaged the local economy and threatens pristine wetlands.

Speaking in a drafty warehouse decked out with flags from all 50 states, Mr. Obama told more than 3,000 members of the military at the Naval Air Station here that the spill is an “unprecedented environmental disaster,” but he vowed to meet it with an “unprecedented response.”

“My administration is going to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes, to deal with this disaster,” Mr. Obama said. “That is a commitment that I am making to the people of Florida and the people all across this Gulf.”
The remarks capped Mr. Obama’s first overnight visit to the region, which also marked his first look at the three states east of Louisiana that have been affected by the spill, created by an April 20 explosion to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 people.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Obama met with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and other Florida government officials at a beachside snack bar, where they received an update on the federal spill response from Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen. The day before, he visited a Coast Guard station in Gulfport, Miss. and toured a staging facility in Theodore, Ala.

Mr. Obama has used his fourth trip to the Gulf to implore Americans to boost the local economy by visiting the Gulf, plugging local beaches and calling the seafood delicious.

“People need to know that Pensacola is still opened for business,” he said Tuesday morning.

But Mr. Obama’s visit to the Sunshine State wasn’t met with open arms by everyone. The Republican Party of Florida knocked him in a statement for taking “nearly two months to realize that Florida, the fourth largest economy in the nation, is facing a serious environmental and economic impact.”

“Considering that the Obama administration couldn’t even be bothered to invite Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum to a meeting of attorneys general from impacted states just two weeks ago, one might think that the president’s sudden expression of concern for our state is related more to the negative publicity he’s receiving in a political swing state, rather than authentic concern for the impact his lack of leadership could have on our beaches, tourism revenue, and fishing industry for years to come,” the party said.

After what some described as an initially passive response to the disaster, the White House has been dogged in its efforts to project an image of strength as questions loom about BP’s forthcomingness and black sludge creeps toward some of the nation’s most sensitive wetlands.

Hours after he returns to Washington this afternoon, Mr. Obama will address the nation in the first Oval Office speech of his term. He will use the address to lay out a plan for dealing with the oil that has already leaked and what must be done to restore the Gulf, along with how to make whole those who have seen their businesses harmed by the disaster, according to a senior administration official.

He’s also expected to outline “what our fundamental energy approach must be going forward to reduce our dependence on oil and fossil fuels,” the official said. The House last summer passed a bill that would impose a cap-and-trade system on greenhouse gas emissions, but a test vote last week in the Senate signaled that approach cannot garner the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

It is not clear how specific Mr. Obama will be in laying out what should be in the bill, or whether he will set an end-of-the-year timeline for signing legislation.

Mr. Obama and other Democrats have called on BP to set aside a chunk of cash in an escrow account to resolve economic assistance claims filed by local businesses. Senate Democrats have asked for $20 billion while the White House has been reluctant to name a number. Both say an independent administrator should be in charge of the process.

The president said this week he will press company executives on the issue when he meets with BP CEO Tony Hayward and Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg at the White House on Wednesday.