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Government Presses BP to Pay Up

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The sun sets behind two under-construction offshore oil platform rigs in Port Fourchon, La, June 14, 2010, as cleanup of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil continues.

President Barack Obama's chief spokesman says the federal government will take over the handling of oil spill damage claims from BP if the company doesn't speed up its processing.

Speaking from the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs said the government would take over claims if the British company doesn't set up an "independent entity" to do it, saying the processing to date has been unsatisfactory, according to a report in the Associated Press. Gibbs noted that President Obama "has the legal authority" to make the claims process independent, saying "the best way to prevail upon BP is to take the claims process away from them." 

The claims process is said to be on the list of issues President Obama will be addressing Tuesday evening in the first prime-time Oval Office speech of his presidency. The address is scheduled for 8 p.m. EST. It comes on the heels of Obama's fourth visit to the stricken Gulf region, which he will be wrapped up in Florida today, after a speech at Pensacola Naval Air Station. On Monday, Obama visited Mississippi and Alabama. Speaking to residents, the president promised that the government will "leave the Gulf Coast in better shape than it was before." 

Obama will meet with BP executives on Wednesday.

According to a Gallup Poll released on Tuesday, seven out of 10 Americans say Obama has not been tough enough in his dealings with BP. Fifty-nine percent of those Americans polled in the June 11-13 survey said they thought BP should pay for all financial losses resulting from the Gulf Coast oil spill, including the  wages of workers put out of work, even if those payments ultimately drive the company out of business.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has been investigating the series of events that led up to the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers and set the environmental catastrophe into motion. Documents released by investigators show that BP took a series of money-saving shortcuts and made blunders that dramatically increased the danger of a destructive spill from a well that an engineer described as a "nightmare" just six days before the blowout. Investigators found that BP began cutting corners in the well design, cementing and drilling efforts, and the installation of key safety devices, when it fell behind schedule on the project and started losing hundreds of thousands of dollars day on delays.

Meanwhile, members of the House Energy panel reviewing oil spill response plans say the nation's five largest oil companies are just as unprepared as BP to respond to a future spill. Committee Chairman Henry Waxman called the nearly identical plans from BP, ExxonMobil, Chevon, ConocoPhillips and Shell Oil "cookie cutter plans." Two of the plans list an expert already deceased. Three include suggestions for protecting walruses, which don't live in the Gulf.

On Monday, BP was granted permission to use a new method that involves pumping oil from the busted wellhead to a special ship on the surface to be burned off rather than collected, the Associated Press reports. The British oil giant says it hopes to trap as much as 2.2 million gallons of oil daily by the end of June as it deploys additional containment equipment, including the flaring system.