June 14, 2010

This should work. But should it take a major outcry to make President Obama step up his game?

WASHINGTON — President Obama will use his first Oval Office speech Tuesday night to outline a plan to legally compel BP to create an escrow account to compensate businesses and individuals for their losses from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, administration officials said on Sunday.

It would be part of a week of activities intended to convey presidential command of a crisis that continues to test both the government and the company.

Mr. Obama will press for the escrow account if BP does not establish one voluntarily. The board of the London-based company will discuss the idea and other spill-related issues — including a brewing controversy over a big dividend for shareholders coming due this summer — at an emergency session on Monday, company officials said.

But it does not expect to announce decisions until after its chairman and chief executive speak with Mr. Obama at a meeting he has called for midweek.

Apparently BP has been dragging their feet on paying claims:

The 42,000 claims filed with the oil company so far go well beyond the shrimpers, oystermen and seafood processers who have been the spill's most visible victims. Hotels, restaurants, machine shops, bars, tour companies all became collateral damage when the Gulf of Mexico, one of the nation's most important fisheries and tourist destinations, became an industrial cleanup site.

The people whose lives depend on those businesses complain of claims that have been ignored, phone lines that ring unanswered and lost paperwork. One man said his BP claims adjuster didn't even know where Grand Isle, La., was.

"What the future will hold, I have no idea," said Emma Chighizola, owner of the Blue Water Souvenirs shop on Grand Isle, a barrier island full of colorful beach cabins at the southern tip of Louisiana that is normally flush with pink, sweaty tourists this time of year. "We've never been through anything like this. We've been through a lot of hurricanes and we always came back. We knew what to expect. This, we don't."

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