Monday, November 29, 1999

BP agrees to finance USD 20 billion fund

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BP has agreed to finance a USD 20 billion fund to pay the claims of people whose jobs and way of life have been damaged by the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Barack Obama said today.The USD 20 billion will provide substantial assurance that legitimate claims made by people and businesses in the Gulf will be honoured, Obama said.The president, speaking alone in the State Dining Room of the White House, also announced that BP had voluntarily agreed to establish a USD 100 million fund to compensate laid-off oil right workers affected by his six-month drilling moratorium.Obama said the USD 20 billion is not a cap, adding that the people of the Gulf have his commitment that BP will meet all of its obligations to them. He made his remarks after meeting with BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg.The independent fund will be directed by lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw payments to families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the president said. There will be a three-member panel to adjudicate claims that are turned down."This is about accountability. At the end of the day, that's what every American wants and expects," Obama said after a meeting that stretched more than four hours, with Obama darting in and out of the room.Obama and top advisers met with a group of BP officials, including board chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg and CEO Tony Hayward. Svanberg, speaking with reporters later, announced the company would suspend its dividend for the rest of the year.He expressed sorrow for victims of the spill. "This tragic accident ... should have never happened," he said, and he also used the occasion to "apologise to the American people."The meeting took place a day after Obama's first and, some say disappointing, Oval Office address to the nation yesterday when he laid out what his administration has done and will do to overcome the country's worst environmental crisis.Obama's high-stakes address to the nation was yet another attempt by the president not only to confront the Gulf tragedy but also to ward off a robust political challenge from opposition Republicans who are poised to diminish or even undo the his Democratic majorities in Congress this November.The outcome of the elections could have a profound affect on Obama's legislative agenda in the final two years of his term.Millions upon millions of gallons (liters) of polluting crude oil continue to spew into the Gulf nearly two months after the British-based company's Deep Horizon drilling platform exploded, killing 11 workers and setting in motion an environmental and economic catastrophe.

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