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BP to set up $20 billion cleanup fund, Obama says

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: BP will not pay dividends this year
  • Obama: BP establishes a $20 billion escrow fund to pay claims
  • The fund will be administered by an independent third party; it does not represent a cap on liabilities
  • BP will create a $100 million fund for oil rig workers now unemployed due to rig closures

Washington (CNN) -- BP has reached an agreement with the federal government to place $20 billion in an escrow fund to pay for claims in the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, President Barack Obama announced at the White House on Wednesday. The amount does not represent a total cap on the amount the oil giant may ultimately have to pay, the president said.

Obama's announcement came at the conclusion of a lengthy White House meeting between top administration and BP officials.

The $20 billion fund will be administered by an independent third party, Obama said. Attorney Kenneth Feinberg -- who oversaw the compensation fund for victims of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks -- will oversee the claims process, he added.

The fund "will not supersede individuals' or states' rights to present claims in court," he said. BP, he asserted, will remain liable for the environmental disaster in the Gulf.

BP has also voluntarily agreed to create a $100 million fund for the purpose of compensating oil rig workers now unemployed as a result of closure of other deepwater rigs after the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion, Obama said.

"The people of the Gulf have my commitment that BP will meet its obligations to them," he said.

BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg later added that the board of the oil giant has decided not to pay any further dividends this year. The company had come under intense criticism for rewarding shareholders in light of the disaster in the Gulf.

Svanberg told reporters after the meeting that he wanted to "apologize to the American people on behalf of all the employees in BP."

"I do thank you for the patience that you have in this difficult time," he said. "Through our actions and commitments we hope that we over the long term ... we will regain the trust that you have in us."

Svanberg noted that he sometimes hears comments "that large oil companies are greedy companies or don't care."

"That is not the case in BP," he said. "We care about the small people."

The president characterized his talks with BP as "constructive" and said they represented "a good start" to providing the necessary relief to the battered Gulf region. He also warned, however, that BP's plans to capture 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the ruptured well in the coming weeks are "still not good enough."

"We will continue to press BP and draw on our best minds and resources to capture the rest of the oil until the company finishes drilling a relief well later in the summer that is expected to stop the leak completely," Obama promised.

The highly anticipated meeting between top federal and BP officials was attended by Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, among others.

Representing BP -- aside from Svanberg -- were Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward and Managing Director Bob Dudley, along with BP America CEO Lamar McKay.

 
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