Obama: 'We will fight' oil spill
WASHINGTON, June 15 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama outlined Tuesday his battle plan to address the worst oil spill in U.S. history and urged support to move to a clean energy economy.
"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 he completed 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."
Gulf oil leak revised upward again
WASHINGTON, June 15 (UPI) -- The busted BP oil well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is gushing 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil a day, officials said in a revised estimate Tuesday.
That's up from the 20,000 to 40,000 barrels scientists had estimated just last week as the nation's worst-ever oil spill continues.
The new estimate was announced in Washington by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Dr. Marcia McNutt, the U.S. Geological Survey director who is heading up the National Incident Command's Flow Rate Technical Group.
They said in a release that a team of federal and independent scientists met Monday and concluded from updated information obtained last weekend that crude was spilling from the BP well at a rate more than 50 percent higher than previously thought.
"The improved estimate is based on more and better data that is now available and that helps increase the scientific confidence in the accuracy of the estimate," the release stated.
The revised estimate came as BP suspended its containment efforts temporarily Tuesday following a lightning-ignited fire on the derrick on the Discoverer Enterprise. No injuries were reported.
The BP-operated Deepwater Horizon drill rig sank after an April 20 killed 11 workers. It has been sending crude into the gulf ever since.
The trio of federal officials said BP has been told to implement multiple strategies to boost its containment capabilities. The collecting cap now in place can capture up to 18,000 barrels of oil per day, they said.
They said BP was deploying a second containment option, called the Q4000, Tuesday that could expand the containment capacity to 20,000-28,000 barrels per day. BP is to get the containment level up to 40,000-53,000 barrels per day by the end of June and 60,000-80,000 barrels per day by mid-July.
"As we continue to collect additional data and refine these estimates, it is important to realize that the numbers can change," Chu said. "In particular, the upper number is less certain -- which is exactly why we have been planning for the worst case scenario at every stage and why we are continuing to focus on responding to the upper end of the estimate, plus additional contingencies."
Salazar said an accurate flow rate is needed "both for the purposes of the response and recovery and for the final investigation of the failure of the blowout preventer and the resulting spill."
Bromwich to head MMS reform
WASHINGTON, June 15 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama said Tuesday he has picked Michael R. Bromwich to head up reform of the federal agency that oversees offshore oil drilling operations.
Bromwich, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Justice Department inspector general, is tasked with restoring integrity and rigor to the relationship between federal regulatory officials at Minerals Management Services and oil companies, Obama said in a statement. The president said Bromwich is to develop a new oversight structure that will replace what he said have been longstanding, inadequate practices with a gold-standard approach for environmental and safety regulation.
The agency has come under fire since the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico but Obama said the problem goes back years.
"For a decade or more, the cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency was allowed to go unchecked," Obama said. "That allowed drilling permits to be issued in exchange not for safety plans, but assurances of safety from oil companies. That cannot and will not happen anymore."
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced May 19 the agency would be divided into a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and an Office of Natural Resources Revenue.
Bromwich is a Harvard law grad who is a litigation partner in the Washington and New York offices of Fried Frank, where he heads the firm's internal investigations, compliance and monitoring practice group.
The White House cited his track record as a fixer of broken agencies ranging from the federal level to local police departments in Houston and Washington.
Fed approves credit card fee limits
WASHINGTON, June 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. Federal Reserve's governing board has approved new credit card rules limiting late fees and mandating a review of recent interest rate changes.
"The new rules require that late payment and other penalty fees be assessed in a way that is fairer and generally less costly for consumers," Federal Reserve Governor Elizabeth A. Duke said in a statement.
The rules include a cap on late fees that is limited to the size of the late payment. For example, a fee cannot exceed $20 for a late payment on a bill with a minimum due amount of $20. Late fees -- or other penalties -- also cannot exceed $25 unless costs to the card issuer exceed $25 or the card holder is a repeat offender, the Fed said.
The rules also prohibit fees for leaving a credit card account dormant or unused for a length of time.
In addition, the rules include a ban on repeated fees for the same violation of the credit card terms.
The rules are the third stage of the Fed's obligations for compliance with the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 and go into effect Aug. 22, the Fed said.