Obama keeps pressure on BP to accept responsibility

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The Independent US

Still afraid that the Gulf slick could foul not just beaches but the standing of President Barack Obama as well, the White House barked loudly at BP again this weekend releasing a letter demanding "immediate public clarification" of the company's readiness to pay all clean-up and compensation costs.

Signed by the US Secretaries of Homeland Security and Interior, Janet Napolitano and Ken Salazar, the letter is an effort to ensure that BP makes no attempt to protect itself using the $75m (£51.5m) liability cap that was set for oil companies in the event of disaster in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill.

Mr Obama has branded as a "ridiculous spectacle" efforts by the companies involved to blame each other for the accident. Yesterday, a top aide reiterated the point. "We will continue to hold BP's feet to the fire," he said. "As the president said yesterday, he is committed to ensuring the responsible parties compensate those affected."

The agitation evident at the White House comes as efforts by Democrats on Capitol Hill to pass legislation to raise the liability cap to as much as $10bn are meeting resistance from Republicans, who argue that to do so would make it too risky for anyone but the biggest energy companies to drill in the Gulf.

"Unfortunately, Republicans blocked that measure on the floor opting to stand up for oil companies and leave taxpayers on the hook to bail them out," said Jim Manley, spokesman for the Senate Majority leader, Harry Reid.

On the defensive yesterday, Republicans said an increase in the liability cap may be moot because they believe BP when it says it will pay for everything. "The BP people repeatedly stated at the hearing and have told me personally, they are going to be responsible for all legitimate claims that are made against them. So I think we need to watch that closely," Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama said.

But it is precisely to pin down BP to those spoken commitments that the White House sent the letter to BP on Saturday and then released its contents to the American media.

"We understand that BP will not in any way seek to rely on the potential $75m statutory cap to refuse to provide compensation to any individuals or others harmed by the oil spill, even if more than $75m is required to provide full compensation... and BP will not seek reimbursement from American taxpayers," the letter aid. The secretary signatories added that "in the event that our understanding is inaccurate, we request public clarification of BP's true intentions".

With hearings set to continue on Capitol Hill this week, fresh heat will be directed at the government and particularly at Mr Salazar – the Interior Secretary – who will testify tomorrow. There have been a string of revelations pointing to the lax imposition of environmental regulations on BP and other oil companies.

Last week, Mr Salazar proposed splitting the Mineral Management Services agency, a part of his department, which until now has collected royalties for wells from oil companies and imposed controls on them, an arrangement filled with conflicts of interest.