President Barack Obama on Wednesday proposed a package of measures that would provide $118 million in additional funding for oil spill relief efforts and raise the tax that oil companies pay to maintain an emergency fund.
In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requesting congressional approval of the package, Obama said oil giant BP - which owns the leaking well at the source of the Gulf of Mexico spill - was responsible for all clean-up costs. In addition, Obama said, the government would seek full compensation for all damages from BP.
"We cannot allow the potentially protracted pursuit of claims to prevent us from swift action to help those harmed by this spill," Obama said in the letter.
Jeff Liebman, the acting deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the package called for an additional $118 million in spending.
"We expect that the overall majority of that would end up being reimbursed by BP," Liebman said.
A statement posted on the White House website said the package included steps to bolster the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, an emergency fund created by money from oil companies. The proposals also would fund expanded relief efforts for the oil spill, according to the statement from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
The proposals would increase by 1 cent the current tax of 8 cents a barrel that oil companies pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, and also increase the amounts that could be spent from that fund on single incidents.
In addition, the proposals would increase the amount responsible parties have to pay for oil spills. The statement from Gibbs provided no figures, but some legislators have proposed raising the cap on damage liability from the current $75 million to $10 billion.
Other provisions of the package include:
– allowing the Coast Guard to draw one or more advances of up to $100 million from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to cover its expenses in responding to the Gulf oil spill;
– providing $2 million to the Food and Drug Administration to monitor and respond to the environmental impact of the oil spill on seafood from the Gulf;
– providing $29 million for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to conduct any necessary additional inspections, studies and enforcement activities outside what is covered by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund;
– providing $2 million to the Environmental Protection Agency and $5 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for environmental studies that bolster the federal response to the spill;
– expanding and speeding up systems for providing federal relief to affected areas;
– providing $5 million for the Economic Development Administration's Economic Adjustment Assistance program that awards grants to state, local, and non-profit organizations in the affected region for strategic planning and technical assistance;
– providing $15 million to cover losses by fishermen in the event that the fisheries are declared disaster areas.
Other spending would include strengthening the ability of existing relief and compensation programs to deliver immediate help, according to the statement by Gibbs.
"The legislation includes unemployment assistance, food and nutrition assistance, and help for those affected by the spill to find work, aid to fisheries and fishermen who have been severely impacted by the spill, funding to increase inspection of fish and seafood to protect the safety of the food we eat, and the establishment of one-stop shops for those in need of aid," said Carol Browner, Obama's assistant for energy and climate change.
"The bill also provides funding for additional inspections and enforcement of safety regulations on other offshore platforms; and comprehensive evaluations of new policies, procedures and actions needed in light of this incident," Browner said.
Liebman noted that the White House package joins other measures already proposed in the House and Senate, and he called for speedy action to complete and pass the legislation.
"This needs passing as soon as possible so that we can get the tools in place to take care of the folks in the Gulf," Liebman said.
– CNN's Ed Henry and Tom Cohen contributed to this report