BP Agrees to Put $20 Billion in Escrow Account for People Affected by Oil Spill, White House Says

Obama Promises to Make BP Pay, But Residents Skeptical of Cleanup Efforts

BP today pledged to put $20 billion in an escrow account to compensate people affected by the Gulf coast oil spill, a White House official told ABC News.

The fund will be run by lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who also oversees salary limits for companies getting federal bailout money.

The announcement came after President Obama met with BP executives today to push them to take responsibility for the financial damage caused by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, attempting to make good on his Tuesday promise to the country that his administration will fight the "epidemic" in the Gulf Coast with "everything we've got for as long it takes" and make BP "pay for the damage the company has caused."

The company was represented in the meeting by Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg and Chief Executive Tony Hayward. Obama was joined by Vice President Joe Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and other members of his Cabinet.

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On the agenda for today's meeting was who would oversee the escrow account -- which the president said Tuesday would be managed by a third party -- how much money would be allocated by BP, and whether the company would pay salaries for people affected by the six-month moratorium on oil drilling.

This is the first time the president has met with any BP executives since the spill began on April 20, after an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig.

BP did not say what its executives will bring to the table today, except a statement that "we share the president's goal of shutting off the well as quickly as possible, cleaning up the oil and mitigating the impact on the people and environment of the Gulf Coast. We look forward to meeting with President Obama tomorrow for a constructive discussion about how best to achieve these mutual goals."

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Obama's address to the nation Tuesday night, in which he promised a long-term recovery plan for the Gulf coast and to push BP to pay for the damages, was met with a mix of skepticism and optimism in the nation's hardest hit areas, along with a flurry of criticism from Republicans.

After weeks of confusion and criticism, Obama's speech Tuesday night -- his first nationally televised address from the Oval Office -- was an attempt to be seen as a commanding commander-in-chief, in a different kind of war.

The president vowed that the war "assaulting our shores and our citizens" would be fought on several fronts -- cleaning up the oil and containing the environmental damage through burning, skimming and barriers, then stopping the gusher under the sea; pushing BP to take responsibility for the economic losses; and taking steps to ensure that such a disaster doesn't happen again.

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The president also pushed for a new emphasis on renewable clean energy, a focus Republicans rejected.

"Fifty days ago, I think it's a speech that would've worked. Last night, it seems as if it just faded into the night," Ari Fleischer, former press secretary to President George W. Bush, said on "Good Morning America" today. "He didn't jump on this crisis as soon as it began and he's had a hard time recovering every since. ... It wasn't his fault, he didn't cause it, but as president, you want the president to quickly move to rally. That's been lacking."

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