WASHINGTON: Barack Obama is hoping his first prime-time address from the Oval Office since his inauguration 17 months ago will persuade Americans he has the leadership nous needed to end the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.Under attack for his handling of the crisis, the President was expected to wrap up a two-day visit to the gulf with assurances he would hold the oil giant BP accountable for the spill, which he has likened to the September 11, 2001, attacks for its potential to profoundly affect US policy.Mr Obama’s address last night is part of a White House strategy to show a more muscular approach to managing the disaster.Having announced plans to force BP to tip billions of dollars into an independent fund to compensate victims of the spill, he will insist that the gulf environment and economy can be rehabilitated.Touring fouled beaches in Mississippi and Alabama on Monday, the President told devastated locals: ”I promise you this: things are going to return to normal.” The goal would be to pay legitimate claims ”justly, fairly, promptly”.The White House said it had demanded that BP capture as many as 50,000 barrels of oil a day from the leaking well by the end of this month.The administration is trying to persuade the public there has been a fully committed federal government response to the emergency since the outset.However, it has work to do: in a Gallup poll seven out of 10 respondents said Mr Obama had not been tough enough on BP, while his approval rating has slipped to 48 per cent, from 62 per cent a year ago.The symbolism of using the Oval Office for the address was deliberate, demonstrating the administration understood the gravity of the gulf spill, now in its eighth week, said a White House spokesman, Bill Burton.News that BP could be forced to pay as much as $US20 billion ($23 billion) to the fund on top of the billions of dollars it has already committed to the clean-up came as two Democrat representatives leading an investigation into the spill accused BP of cutting corners at its ill-fated Deepwater Horizon drill rig.They said it had chosen faster and cheaper drilling options, increasing ”the danger of a catastrophic well failure”.Investors reacted by slicing a further 9 per cent off BP’s share price on Monday, taking to more than $US90 billion the value wiped from the company since the rig caught fire and sank.The administration hopes to finalise details of the compensation fund this week.Mr Obama, in an interview with Politico, said just as the events of September 11, 2001, had profoundly shaped ”our view of our vulnerabilities and our foreign policy”, so the oil disaster would shape thinking on the environment for years to come.A bill is now before the House of Representatives mapping out a shift away from emissions-heavy oil and coal to clean, renewable energy sources.However, opportunities for forging a new energy policy are likely to falter in the lead-up to critical midterm congressional elections in November, with Republicans reluctant to help deliver a legislative coup for their opponents.
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