- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2010

President Obama on Monday warned of a long road to recovery for the Gulf Coast as it continues to grapple with the worst oil spill in the nation’s history, mixing criticism of BP with a dose of optimism about the region’s ability to “bounce back” from the disaster.

Echoing the sentiments of Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man on the crisis, Mr. Obama sought to set public expectations for a long and arduous cleanup.

“No matter how successful we are over the next few weeks on some of the containment efforts, the damages are still going to be there,” Mr. Obama said after meeting with his Cabinet to discuss coordinating the ongoing response, including monitoring workers for any adverse health effects.

“The one thing I’m absolutely confident about is, as we have before, we will get through this crisis,” he said.

After drawing initial criticism over its public response to the crisis, the White House is doing all it can to highlight the government’s role in containing the spill and preventing similar disasters. Last month, the administration announced it is splitting up the regulatory agency that oversees offshore drilling, and the Department of Justice recently said it is exploring possible criminal charges against BP.

But according to recent polls, the government’s efforts may not be enough. An ABC News/Washington Post survey shows that 69 percent of Americans view the federal response negatively - more than the 62 percent who viewed the government’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 negatively.

Still, Americans are more critical of BP, with 81 percent disapproving of its response and 64 percent supporting criminal charges against the company, according to the survey.

Mr. Obama, who visited the region for the third time Friday, saved his toughest words for BP, saying the oil giant should not be “nickel and diming” local businesses that file economic compensation claims.

BP’s latest attempt at stemming the flow of oil by placing a cap over the hole, which is located 5,000 below the surface, was progressing Monday. At a morning news conference, Adm. Allen told reporters in Washington the mechanism is stopping 462,000 gallons of oil from leaking, up from 252,000 gallons three days ago.

Federal officials have estimated the leak is gushing somewhere between 500,000 gallons and 1 million gallons a day. The permanent fix won’t come until August, when BP hopes to complete drilling two relief wells.

Even then, Adm. Allen said, it’s inevitable that oil will escape and draw out the containment effort as well as the cleanup effort. He said he didn’t dispute the assessments of environmentalists who say it will take years to deal with the devastating effects of the oil along the coastline.

“I think we need to be realistic and honest and transparent with the American people,” he said.

Asked whether BP could be doing anything better, Adm. Allen said the government would like to see the company respond to assistance claims faster, a point later reiterated by Mr. Obama.

“We are going to insist that money flows quickly on a timely basis,” Mr. Obama said.

On Monday, BP said the cost of its response to the spill has reached $1.25 billion, a figure that does not include a $350 million project to build sand berms aimed at protecting Louisiana wetlands.

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