GRAND ISLE, La., June 4, 2010 -- President Obama slammed BP today for spending money on a new television ad campaign and paying dividends to shareholders as Gulf Coast residents continue to clamor for action and progress toward containing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Showing frustration and a touch of irritation, Obama noted that BP has contracted for $50 million worth of television advertising in order to "manage their image during the course of this disaster" and cited reports that the oil company will pay $10.5 billion to shareholders this quarter.
"I don't have a problem with BP fulfilling its legal obligations," Obama said. "But I want BP to be very clear: They've got moral and legal obligations here in the Gulf for the damage that has been done.
"What I don't want to hear," he said, "is when they're spending that kind of money on their shareholders and spending that kind of money on TV advertising that they're nickel and diming fishermen or small businesses here in the Gulf who are having a hard time."
Obama said that federal officials would be looking over BP's shoulder and working with state and local officials to ensure the company was not "lawyering up" when it comes to claims from those hurt by this catastrophe.
"They say they want to make it right," Obama said. "That's part of their advertising campaign. Well, we want them to make it right."
Obama returned to the Louisiana Gulf Coast today for another firsthand look at efforts to stop the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and to hear directly from local residents.
This is the president's third visit to the region since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion April 20 and subsequent oil leak; his second trip in the past week.
Oily Pelicans, Beaches
Today, dozens of pelicans and other birds, their feathers basted in oil the consistency of pancake batter, were brought to a wildlife rescue facility in Fort Jackson, La. For every one bird rescued another four are found dead.
The numbers of animals affected by the oil are now mushrooming, according to wildlife officials. In fact, in the past two days more birds were brought in to the rescue facility in Fort Jackson than in all previous 45 days of the spill.
Only some of the rescued birds will survived the cleaning process. Others will go into shock and die.
More than 30,000 birds were killed following the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. The Gulf spill is three times larger in size and it's also in the center of the migratory path of millions of birds a year.
Obama touched down in New Orleans this afternoon and immediately met Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, Gulf state governors, members of Congress and local officials for a briefing on the latest attempts to cap the spewing pipeline and mitigate the environmental damage. Allen is commanding the accident-response effort.
Obama sounded a cautious note on the news coming from BP regarding efforts to "plug the damn hole," as he once said. While he wouldn't go into technical details about attempts to cap the well, he said, "it does appear that the cap, at least for now, is holding"
The president stressed, however, that it is "way too early to be optimistic" about BP's latest efforts to control the spill.
Obama's visit to Grand Isle differs considerably from last week's trip to the same small coastal fishing town. He made a quick tour of a beach strewn with tar balls last Friday but spent the rest of his three-hour visit talking with political leaders and local officials.
The president today will make a point to meet with residents, individuals and business leaders who have been affected directly by the economic consequences of the spill. Grand Isle Mayor David Carmadelle has put together a group of locals with whom the president will meet.
In the wake of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, Obama has been trying to convey presidential action and concern and has promised answers to the American people.
But that has not sheltered him from criticism from television pundits and newspapers columnists, including even his supporters, who have said that the president has shown too little energy and passion.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama believed his last visit to the Gulf was "tremendously productive," but that today's trip will include a nod to a dimension that many critics say has been lacking from the president: emotion.
"The president is well aware of the pain and suffering that this accident is causing, and that is why he's asked that we do everything we can," Gibbs said.
Local Merchant on Business: 'We're Done'
Among the Louisiana Gulf Coast locals -- 46 days into the disaster -- is a sense of despondence and frustration at a life rapidly changing, and potentially getting worse by the day.
"I'm not used to not sitting there and doing anything," James Frazier, a construction worker who has been out of work for more than three weeks because of the spill, "Just get everything back the way it was. I don't even have to be better. Just the way it was."
Frazier's company lost its contract to build tourism camps, as once-beautiful Louisiana beaches have turned into beaches covered with tar. He had some thoughts on what President Obama needs to say while in his town.
"He would need to say, 'I'm the boss,' tell BP, 'I'm the boss. You know this is what you all gonna do now. I'm tired of asking you all to do this. This is what you all going to do.'"
Jonathan Ashley, a contractor who has seen what he warns is a "massive slick" on the water, said the worst is yet to come for the people of Louisiana.
"It's four miles wide," Ashley said. "It's over 30 miles long, and it's anywhere's between four inches to a foot thick."
Ashley is responsible for some decontamination cleanup, but sounded resignation.
"There's really not much they can do right now," he said. "It's pretty much just done."
Roy Folse, a commercial seafood dealer, was almost in tears describing how his life has been "ruined" by the situation.
"We're done, we're done," he said of his 35 employees.
"It's not good," Foles said, looking out on the waters that once were his livelihood at the Sand Dollar Marina in Grand Isle, La.
"Everything was good, fishing was good," he said. "Shrimping was good, now it's a totally different thing. It don't look good from here."
What's left for Foles? Like many in this area, he, too, is left wondering.
"Sleep. Wait to die," he said.
Walter Maples, a Grand Isle resident whose family has owned the local grocery store for nearly 30 years, said last week he is worried about his family's livelihood and that of other area business owners.
"We don't know what the future holds for us here. This thing's full of oil here. Soaked it," he said as he fought back tears. "The marsh's dead and the shrimp are gone. What do we do? Who we going to sell groceries to?"
Maples said he and other residents of the Louisiana Gulf Coast have no control over their futures and he worries that officials are playing politics with a disaster.
Obama said in an interview with CNN Thursday that he was "furious" about the situation but that his job is to solve the problem, not yell at people.
"I am furious at this entire situation because this is an example where somebody didn't think through the consequences of their actions," Obama told CNN's Larry King. "It's imperiling not just a handful of people. This is imperiling an entire way of life and an entire region for potentially years."
Obama was to visit a staging area today where boom is prepared for deployment and will meet with a Department of Homeland Security official who is helping people get their claims paid by BP.
The White House said Thursday that the federal government was sending BP a $69 million bill for costs so far in the spill. Gibbs said the bill was the first to be sent to the oil company, which leased the rig that exploded April 20 and sank two days later. Eleven people were killed.
Anywhere between 21 million and 46 million gallons of oil so far has spewed into the Gulf, according to government estimates.
South Pacific Trip Postponed Again
The ongoing crisis in the Gulf has shaken up Obama's schedule. The White House said Thursday night that Obama would postpone, for the second time, his upcoming trip to Indonesia and Australia.
That trip was originally scheduled for March but was put off until this month so the president could remain in the United States during the lead up to the health care vote in Congress.