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BP Fund Will Rebuild Confidence, Senate Democrats Say

Public confidence is on the road to restoration thanks to BP’s agreement to create a $20 billion fund to pay claims for damage resulting from the Gulf Coast oil spill, Senate Democrats said Wednesday.

“Now we can have some faith that BP will be required to do what’s right for the people who have been touched by this crisis,” Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said at a news conference.

Schumer also lauded President Barack Obama for brokering the agreement, which was announced after a four-hour meeting between BP executives and Obama at the White House on Wednesday. During a televised address from the Oval Office on Tuesday, Obama vowed that he would hold BP financially accountable for the Gulf Coast’s recovery.

“People are asking, ‘Is the president involved?’ Well, he’s ratcheted up his involvement in the last few days, and look what’s been produced,” Schumer said.

“The last two days have been a turning point. A turning point for the people in the gulf, a turning point for the American people, and a turning point for President Obama,” he added.

Under the agreement announced Wednesday, BP will pay $20 billion into an escrow account to compensate the individuals and small businesses affected by the ongoing oil leak, which was caused by an explosion April 20 on a BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The independent fund will be administered by Kenneth Feinberg, who served as special master of the compensation fund for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

BP also volunteered to set up a $100 million fund to compensate unemployed oil rig workers affected by the closure of rigs, and the company said it would suspend dividend payments to shareholders for the rest of the year.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said BP’s action Wednesday would restore consumer confidence “that has been chipped away over the last few weeks.”

“The judgment BP has made today reflects an understanding that their future profit is directly related to managing this crisis,” Wyden said. “My sense is ultimately this is a confidence builder for a company that has taken, in the eyes of investors, a significant hit.”

Democrats on both sides of the Capitol have been pushing legislation that would ensure that BP is held responsible for recovery costs. Despite Obama’s announcement Wednesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hinted that a legislative battle might ensue if cleanup costs continue to rise or if BP falters on its payments.

“We will monitor BP’s payments to those hit hardest by this crisis, and will not hesitate to pass tough legislation if BP fails to follow through on its responsibilities,” she said in a statement.

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