US PRESIDENT Barack Obama will tonight address the American people and will underline the scale of the catastrophe now unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.
He is expected to promise to hold BP to account for the environmental damage wreaked by its eight-week-old oil leak.
His prime-time broadcast comes at the start of a crucial week in the response to the crisis. Senior politicians from the Obama administration and the Democratic hierarchy in Congress are lining up to ramp up the pressure on BP amid accusations the disaster is spinning out of control.
Mr Obama is expected to use his Oval Office speech to outline plans to force the oil giant to set up an independently monitored multibillion-dollar fund to compensate victims of the spill. He will also lay out a detailed timeline of how the worst of the calamity could be contained.
The president began his new offensive yesterday with a two-day visit to the stricken Gulf region. As he landed in Gulfport, Mississippi, he deployed the sharpest language available to him: he likened the environmental impact of the Deep Horizon explosion to the impact on the national psyche of 9/11.
In an interview with the website Politico, he said: “In the same way that our view of our vulnerabilities and our foreign policy was shaped profoundly by 9/11, I think this disaster is going to shape how we think about the environment and energy for many years to come.”
He added that the disaster would act as an impetus “to move forward in a bold way in a direction that finally gives us the kind of future-oriented, visionary energy policy that we so vitally need and that has been absent for so long”.
Mr Obama’s comparison of the impact of the oil spill on the environmental debate to the foreign policy impact of 9/11 drew some angry responses from families of the victims of the attacks.
Jim Riches, former deputy chief of New York’s fire department, whose son died in the World Trade Center, said: “These were terrorist attacks, not something caused by people trying to make money.”
Mr Obama’s trip to the region was his fourth since the oil well exploded on April 20th and saw him travel beyond the boundaries of the worst-hit state, Louisiana, for the first time.
He was scheduled to take in three states – Mississippi, Alabama and Florida – including his first ride on a boat into the waters of the Gulf, in which he was visiting barrier islands in Alabama that are now coated in oil.
Hours before the broadcast, the energy and environment sub-committee of the House of Representatives will call senior BP officials in to answer questions on the company’s handling of the crisis.
The president will then hold his first meeting with a team of top BP staff led by the oil giant’s chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg.
© 2010 Guardian Service