WASHINGTON (AP) -- In assuring Americans on Tuesday that BP won't control the compensation fund for Gulf oil spill recovery, President Barack Obama failed to mention that the government won't control it, either.
That means it's anyone's guess whether the government can, in fact, make BP pay all costs related to the spill.
Obama aimed high in his prime-time Oval Office address -- perhaps higher than the facts support and history teaches -- as he vowed to restore livelihoods and nature from the still-unfolding calamity in the Gulf of Mexico.
A look at some of his statements and how they compare with those facts:
OBAMA: "We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused and we will do whatever's necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy. ... Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party."
THE FACTS: An independent arbiter is no more bound to the government's wishes than an oil company's. In that sense, there is no certainty BP will be forced to make the Gulf economy whole again or that taxpayers are completely off the hook for any of the myriad costs associated with the spill or cleanup. The government can certainly press for that, using legislative and legal tools. But there are no guarantees.
It took 20 years to sort through liability after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, and in the end, punitive damages were slashed by the courts to about $500 million from $2.5 billion. Many people who had lost their livelihoods in the spill died without seeing a check.
OBAMA: "Already, I have issued a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling. I know this creates difficulty for the people who work on these rigs, but for the sake of their safety and for the sake of the entire region, we need to know the facts before we allow deepwater drilling to continue."
THE FACTS: Actually, deepwater drilling is continuing in the Gulf. Obama issued a six-month moratorium on new permits for deepwater drilling. But there is no moratorium on existing wells that were approved before that step was taken late last month, and production continues on those rigs.
OBAMA: "In the coming days and weeks, these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well."
THE FACTS: BP and the administration contend that if all goes as planned, they should be able to contain nearly 90 percent of the worst-case oil flow. But that's a big "if." So far, little has gone as planned in the various remedies attempted to shut off or contain the flow. Possibly as many as 60,000 barrels a day are escaping. BP would need to nearly triple its recovery rate to reach the target.
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