President Obama toured the Gulf Coast today amid rising frustration and complaints that the federal government has responded too slowly and put too little pressure on BP to stop a month-long oil spill.
Outlining the work his administration has done since a rig explosion triggered the spill last month, the president sought to reassure residents while warning them to expect a lengthy cleanup.
"This is something that has to be dealt with immediately," the president said in Grand Isle, Louisiana. "This is our highest priority and it deserves a response that is equal to the task."
BP has launched an unusual procedure called "top kill," which entails putting mud on the leak to stop the oil from flowing up. Obama administration officials expressed confidence earlier today that the process is working, but warned that the next few days will be critical in determining its full success.
"If it is successful, it would obviously be welcome news," the president said. "If it's not, a team of the world's top scientists... has for some time been exploring any and all reasonable contingency plans. ... Our response will continue with its full force regardless of the outcome of the 'top kill' approach."
The president said the government is taking steps to triple the manpower in areas where oil has already hit the shore or is expected in the next day, deploy more booms, clean effected beaches and monitor wildlife and the sea coast system. Obama also said he has asked BP to pay economic injury claims, and "we will make sure they deliver."
The president held the company financially responsible, but said he, as the country's chief executive, is ultimately responsible for solving the crisis.
"I am the president and the buck stops with me," he said.
This was Obama's second trip to the region since BP's offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20. White House officials said the purpose of the trip was for the president to meet with local officials and other individuals at the scene and hear their ideas for containing the oil spill.
Obama arrived in Louisiana this morning and surveyed several parishes. He received briefings from state lawmakers, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Several state officials have blasted the federal government for what they say has been an inadequate response.
"The federal response to protect our marshes is a failure," Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, who met with Obama today, said in a statement earlier. "Just look at their response to our emergency dredging barrier island plan -- weeks of foot-dragging before approving 2 percent of it so they can study it further over more precious weeks and months. I don't think President Obama should leave Louisiana to go on vacation until this failed federal response is clearly turned around."
Vitter was referring to the president's plan to visit Chicago with his family over Memorial Day weekend.
Even some Democrats from the region have said too little is being done to contain the worst ecological disaster caused by an oil spill in U.S. history.
"Everything that I know and love is at risk," an emotional Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Louisiana, said Thursday. "Even though this marsh lies along coastal Louisiana, these are America's wetlands."
In some areas that Obama visited today, visitors held up signs such as "Clean up the Gulf," "I'd Rather be Fishing," and "Help Us Obama."