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Allen: Years before environment is clean

P.J. Mann, an employee of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, rescues a brown pelican from oil-filled waters on Queen Bess Island, Louisiana, June 5, 2010. Oil from the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has fouled the marshlands and injured wildlife. UPI/A.J. Sisco
P.J. Mann, an employee of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, rescues a brown pelican from oil-filled waters on Queen Bess Island, Louisiana, June 5, 2010. Oil from the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has fouled the marshlands and injured wildlife. UPI/A.J. Sisco | License Photo

VENICE, La., June 7 (UPI) -- Cleaning habitats affected by the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill will take years to clean up, U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen warned Monday.

While clearing the oil slick from the gulf's surface will take months, "long-term issues of restoring environments and habitats will take years," Allen said during a news briefing.

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President Barack Obama, meanwhile, in an interview to air Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show, defended how he has gone about his job of getting the nation's worst-ever oil disaster solved.

"I don't just sit around talking to experts because this is a college seminar," Obama said in an excerpt aired Monday night. "I talk to those folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick."

Four states have been affected by the spill that began April 20 when the Transocean Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 workers. The rig sank to the gulf floor two days later and the well has been spewing oil ever since.

Allen, the national incident commander, said two models indicated ranges between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels a day and 12,000 to 25,000 barrels a day were being contained by the cap put in place last week by BP, which leased the rig.

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While the British energy giant has nearly doubled the amount of oil being funneled from the wellhead since Friday, it is "trying to increase that production rate."

After a briefing with Cabinet members, Obama said the economic impact in the region would be tremendous and he didn't want to "see BP nickel-and-diming these businesses that are having a very tough time."

Besides having the Small Business Administration help provide bridge loans and the Commerce Department help businesses document damages they are experiencing, Obama said, "What we also need is BP being quick and responsive to the needs of these local communities."

He said administration officials were assigned to "ride herd" on BP to ensure timely action.

"(We) are going to insist that that money flows quickly, in a timely basis, so that you don't have a shrimp processor or a fisherman who's going out of business before BP finally makes up its mind as to whether or not it's going to pay out," Obama said.

Obama said he and his Cabinet also discussed the health of people dealing with the spill.

"So far, we have seen that on shore we are not seeing huge elevations in toxins in the air or in the water," Obama said. "But that may not be the case out where people are actually doing the work. And we've got to make sure that we are providing all the protections that are necessary."

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He said processes are in place to ensure workers are getting equipment and training to protect their health.

He also assured the American people the leak would be contained.

"It may take some time, and it's going to take a whole lot of effort," Obama said. "There is going to be damage done to the Gulf Coast, and there is going to be economic damages that we've got to make sure BP is responsible for and compensates people for.

"But the one thing I'm absolutely confident about is that, as we have before, we will get through this crisis," Obama said.

During his briefing, Allen said the long-term solution would be the drilling of two relief wells, which are targeted for completion in early August.

He said the spill has "disaggregated itself" during the last several weeks.

"We're no longer dealing with a large, monolithic spill," Allen said. "We're dealing with an aggregation of hundreds or thousands of patches of oil that are going a lot of different directions."

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