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BP oil must pay up or else

Andrew Browne, [email protected]

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WASHINGTON – United States congressional leaders stepped up the pressure on oil giant BP to fully compensate economic victims of the Gulf spill as President Barack Obama prepared to offer condolences yesterday to the relatives of the 11 rig workers killed in the April 20 explosion.
The leader of the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said that “every taxpayer in America must know that BP will be held accountable for what is owed”.
She spoke at the White House after Obama met with congressional leadersof both parties.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell agreed BP had to “clean up the spill”, but he said Democratic lawmakers should not use the tragedy to try to build support for an energy bill.
Asked if BP should cut its dividends to shareholders, Pelosi said: “I think it’s appropriate for BP to be paying businesses in the Gulf . . . . They have a responsibility under the law to pay these damages. They made $17 billion last year. Maybe people who receive dividends have deeper pockets.”
She said it was “appropriate for the government to insist that they obey the law . . . They have failed and misrepresented on every score”.
Obama, in remarks after meeting with the bipartisan group of lawmakers, said the existing law governing oil spills was passed “when people didn’t envision drilling four miles under the sea for oil”.
He said he was pleased that leaders in both parties had agreed during the meeting that the Oil Pollution Act must be updated to compensate Gulf residents who make a living off the local economy and its fisheries and tourism industries.
Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama also wanted to hear the families’ thoughts on changes the government could make to ensure that future deepwater oil drilling was safe. Obama put a temporary halt to such drilling afterthe explosion off Louisiana’s coast.
Asked whether Obama thought the families of the 11 men had been lost in the focus on efforts to stop the millions of gallonsof crude that had been gushing from the broken underwater well, Gibbs said: “They are certainly not forgotten.”
The president’s private meeting with the families in the State Dining Room is part of his effort to show the public, unhappy with the handling of the catastrophe by the government and BP PLC, that he is on topof the situation.
Obama has visited the Louisiana coast three times since the explosion, including stops last Friday and on May 28.
He plans to return Monday and Tuesday for a trip that will take him to affected areas in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. (AP)