President Obama on Monday stressed that Gulf Coast residents need to be "adequately compensated" for losses due to the BP spill, as the White House claimed BP appeared willing to set up the kind of victims compensation fund sought by the president.
Obama spoke briefly following a meeting with Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen and local officials in Mississippi during his fourth trip to the Gulf region to survey damage from the spill. The president, who landed in Biloxi Monday morning, said he wants to make sure claims from individuals and businesses are processed "in a fair manner and in a prompt manner."
"We are minimizing the short-term impacts and we're making sure that we've got the resources to fully recover," Obama said.
The president was heading next to Alabama and then Florida as part of a two-day tour of the region.
He plans to address the nation Tuesday from the Oval Office where he will lay out his plan for a BP victims compensation fund.
Spokesman Bill Burton, speaking to reporters traveling with Obama aboard Air Force One to the Gulf, said the White House and BP were "working out the particulars," such as the amount of the fund and how it will be administered. The account would be run by an independent third-party entity, Burton said, and would run into "the billions of dollars," although he wouldn't give a specific amount.
"We're confident that this is a critical way in which we're going to be able to help individuals and businesses in the Gulf area become whole again," the spokesman said.
BP's board was meeting Monday in London to discuss deferring its second-quarter dividend and putting the money into escrow until the company's liabilities from the spill are known.
The administration had said Obama was ready to force BP, if necessary, to set up the fund, and Burton said Obama aides are "confident we have the legal authority" to do that.
Obama's two-day trip to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida is his latest step as the administration tries to come to grips with the nation's worst environmental disaster. The president plans to address the nation from the Oval Office Tuesday night after his re would be reviewed over the next couple days by outside industry experts to "make sure it's going to be responsive."
Asked how much oil is still being released daily despite the containment efforts, Allen said it remained unclear. "That's the $100,000 question," he said on Air Force One.
Regardless, the leak won't be killed for good until relief wells are completed in August.
As of Monday morning, between 40.7 million and 114.5 million gallons of oil have spilled in the Gulf of Mexico since the Apr. 20 oil rig explosion, according to estimates of spill rates made by scientists advising the federal government. That far outstrips the Exxon Valdez disaster.
BP said its costs for responding to the spill had risen to $1.6 billion, including new $25 million grants to Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.