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Obama says Gulf Coast will bounce back from oil disaster

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Obama: Visit Gulf Coast despite oil
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Obama says full resources of government have been deployed
  • NEW: Gulf Coast and its people will bounce back, president says
  • Obama on fourth trip to the region since disaster began in April
  • Federal authorities want new structure for processing damage claims

President Obama addresses the nation live Tuesday night at 8 ET with the latest on the BP oil disaster. Stay with CNN for updates on the cleanup and effort to stop the leak.

Washington (CNN) -- President Obama began a pivotal week Monday in the response to the BP oil spill by assuring Gulf Coast residents that the "full resources of the federal government are being mobilized to confront" the disaster that has emptied beaches, docked fishing boats and ruined marshlands.

Obama, on his fourth trip to the region since oil began spewing from a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico in April, presented an optimistic outlook for the future of the Gulf Coast, promising it "will bounce back just like it's bounced back before."

"In the end, I'm confident we will be able to leave the Gulf Coast better than it was before," he said after touring a U.S. Coast Guard staging facility in Theodore, Alabama.

Obama is scheduled to continue his trip Tuesday in Pensacola, Florida, where he will deliver a message of support to Pensacola and Florida Panhandle communities at Pensacola's Naval Air Station in the morning, according to an administration official. Obama also is scheduled to address the nation at the White House on the Gulf oil disaster at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, ahead of a highly anticipated meeting with top BP officials Wednesday.

Read more about the president's visit

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BP representatives and Obama are expected to discuss a new structure for processing damage claims from the disaster.

Federal authorities are jacking up the pressure on BP to start compensating Gulf residents and businesses harmed by the oil more effectively.

Obama on Monday acknowledged the toll the massive spill is having on not only the environment, but also on the local people.

"There's a sense that this disaster is not only threatening our fishermen and our shrimpers and oystermen, not only affecting precious marshes and wetlands and estuaries ... there's also a fear that it could have a long-term impact on a way of life that has been passed on for generations," Obama said, adding, "I understand that fear."

"We are absolutely committed to working with [local and state officials] to do everything in our power to protect the Gulf Coast way of life so that it's there for our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren," he said.

David Axelrod, the senior adviser to Obama, recently said a new claims plan would call for an independent third party to handle the process, and a White House spokesman said Monday that the administration is confident that it has the legal authority to force BP to set up an escrow account for the purpose of paying damages.

But Obama declined Monday to elaborate on any possible agreement, saying only that federal officials are "gathering up facts" to ensure that claims are processed "justly, fairly, promptly."

He said preliminary talks on the restructuring have begun but was cautious about how much progress could be made before Wednesday's meeting.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, along with most other Senate Democrats, sent a letter to embattled BP chief Tony Hayward on Monday, urging the company to set aside $20 billion for the purposes of covering both economic damages and Gulf cleanup costs.

"While we are pleased that BP has admitted liability for these damages and vowed to provide full remuneration for economic losses and clean-up costs, history has taught us that corporations often fail to live up to their initial promises," the senators said in the letter.

Meanwhile, Congress prepared to grill top oil executives this week, including Hayward, as pressure increases on the British oil giant to start containing the spill more effectively.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton noted Monday that BP expects to be able to contain 50,000 barrels of now-gushing oil per day by the end of June -- two weeks earlier than previously thought. The revised containment plan was sent in response to a federal request for alternative plans that adequately address substantially higher rates of oil flowing from the well.

But BP is still struggling to pinpoint exactly how much oil is spewing.

The company started to deploy pressure sensors on the ruptured well Sunday in an effort to fine-tune estimates of what is now the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Read more about the sensors

BP used remote-controlled submarines to begin positioning the sensors inside the well, located 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf, company spokesman Mark Proegler said. The sensors were requested by federal experts who have been trying to gauge how much oil has been pouring from the well, which experts say could have been spewing as much as 1.7 million gallons a day into the Gulf.

But Proegler said the devices may not yield accurate information for several days.

"It's not as if they'll plug these sensors in and get readings right away," he said.

Adding to the pressure on BP: a letter released Monday to Hayward from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-California, stating that a congressional investigation indicates the company took a low-cost, speedy approach to drilling the deep-water well responsible for the growing spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"[Our] investigation is raising serious questions about the decisions made by BP in the days and hours before the explosion" that created the spill, Waxman noted. "On April 15, five days before the explosion, BP's drilling engineer called [the facility in the Gulf] a 'nightmare well.' "

Hayward is scheduled to testify before Waxman's committee on Thursday.

Oil is believed to have been pouring into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion that sank the offshore drill rig Deepwater Horizon, killing 11 workers.

The spill now dwarfs the 11 million gallons that were dumped into Alaska's Prince William Sound when the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989, and oil in varying amounts and consistencies has hit the shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

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