"We will fight this spill with everything we've got for as long it takes," Obama said in remarks from the Oval Office, a symbolically serious setting for presidential addresses.
His 18-minute speech outlined next steps, including cleanup operations, what is being done to help Gulf Coast residents and businesses, and how officials are working to ensure "a catastrophe like this never happens again."
His address came after completing a two-day tour of Gulf Coast states affected by the spill that began April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig owned by the Swiss firm Transocean and leased by the British oil giant BP exploded, killing 11 workers, sending the rig to the seafloor and spewing oil into the gulf for 57 days and counting. Besides befouling waters, marshes and wildlife, the oil spill has eroded the region's economy that relies heavily on fishing and tourism.
Obama said he will not abandon the people and businesses who call the Gulf Coast home.
"Tomorrow (Wednesday), I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness," Obama said. "And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent third party."
He repeated an oft-made sentiment: "We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever's necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy."
He said he also is pushing development of a long-term coastal restoration plan as soon as possible that will pull in as much local input as possible.
"And BP will pay for the impact this spill has had on the region," Obama said.
The third part of his plan is to ensure a disaster such as this doesn't happen again. He said he had approved a proposal to consider new, limited offshore drilling with the assurance projects would be "absolutely safe" -- which "obviously" wasn't the case on the Deepwater Horizon rig.
"I have established a national commission to understand the causes of this disaster and offer recommendations on what additional safety and environmental standards we need to put in place," the president said, noting he issued a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling.
"I know (the moratorium) creates difficulty for the people who work on these rigs, but for the sake of their safety, and for the sake of the entire region, we need to know the facts before we allow deep-water drilling to continue," Obama said.
He also spoke of reforming the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, which oversees oil drilling, noting he named former federal prosecutor Michael Bromwich to lead that effort.
"Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility," he said. "(Bromwich's) charge over the next few months is to build an organization that acts as the oil industry's watchdog, not its partner."
He also pushed for an economy driven by clean energy to help wean the country from its dependence on fossil fuel.
"The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now," Obama said. "Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny."
The House of Representatives passed a comprehensive energy and climate bill last year, and a proposal is before the Senate.
To critics who say the country can't afford the costs of transitioning to clean energy, Obama said, "I say we can't afford not to change how we produce and use energy -- because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater."