"I've talked to owners of shops and hotels who wonder when the tourists will start to come back. The sadness and anger they feel is not just about the money they've lost. It's about a wrenching anxiety that their way of life may be lost," he said. "I refuse to let that happen."
Obama's first address from the Oval Office demonstrates the gravity of the Gulf Coast crisis and the political perils the crisis poses for his presidency. More Americans disapprove of the federal response to the spill than disapproved of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina.
Today Obama assured the people of the Gulf Coast again that the administration would make BP pay for the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.
"Yes, this is an unprecedented environmental disaster," the president said at the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Pensacola, one of the staging areas for response efforts. "But we're going to continue to meet it with an unprecedented federal response. ... This is an assault on our shores, and we're going to fight back with everything we've got.
"I am with you, my administration is with you for the long haul to make sure BP pays for the damage it has done," Obama said to loud applause.
The president dispelled the idea that the Gulf Coast waters were unsafe and expressed optimism that the economy would pick up again.
"This city and this region will recover and it will thrive again," he said.
Obama said earlier today that Allen had assigned deputy incident commanders to each of the individual states to help federal responders "make decisions at a local level in response to the suggestions of people who know the communities best."
In Washington, lawmakers grilled oil industry executives for what they described as inadequate plans to ensure the safety of oil drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico and respond to a catastrophic spill.
But Lamar McKay, chairman of BP America, the company responsible for the well spewing oil in the Gulf, resisted suggestions from lawmakers that such operations be curtailed.
He told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee that America's economic security and way of life "significantly depend upon domestic oil and gas production" and warned that reducing operations in the Gulf would simply mean more tankers shipping oil to the United States from abroad.
McKay's testimony came after the committee released dozens of confidential internal BP e-mails that lawmakers say show the company "increased the danger of a catastrophic well failure" by cutting corners to save time and money.
Just days before BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig exploded April 20, one BP drilling engineer wrote of a "nightmare well," another called it a "crazy well."
BP officials will meet with Obama at the White House Wednesday, and the company's CEO, Tony Hayward, is expected to testify on Capitol Hill Thursday.
Obama said his trip to the Gulf this week was aimed at gathering facts and personal stories from those affected in the region to bring to the table at the discussions with BP officials.