WASHINGTON – Vowing to “make BP pay,” President Obama accused the oil giant of “recklessness” in his first address to the nation from the Oval Office on Tuesday night, eight weeks to the day after the catastrophic oil spill began destroying waterways, wildlife and a prized Gulf Coast way of life.

“We will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes,” declared Obama, whose own presidency has been stumbling because of the gushing oil. A new Associated Press-GfK poll even indicates as many Americans disapprove of his handling of the crisis — 52 percent — as felt that way about President George W. Bush’s handling of the Katrina aftermath.

Obama urged the nation to rally behind legislation that would begin changing the way the country consumes and generates energy, saying the expanding oil spill is “the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now.”

Obama compared the need to end the country’s “addiction to fossil fuels” to its emergency preparations for World War II and the mission to the moon. Hours after the government sharply increased its estimate of how much oil is flowing into the Gulf, the president warned that risks will continue to rise because “we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.” He called for fast Senate action on an energy bill that has already passed the House.

“There are costs associated with this transition, and some believe we can’t afford those costs right now,” Obama said. “I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy, because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security and our environment are far greater.”

Even before the president addressed a prime-time television audience, congressional Republican leaders warned him not to use what he described as “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced” to further his political agenda. But beyond the urgency of his appeal, his remarks were largely an 18-minute compilation of what he has said about the spill over the past several weeks.

Obama offered no immediate remedies for a frustrated nation. He did announce he had asked former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan — to be funded by BP PLC — in concert with local states, communities, fishermen, conservationists and residents “as soon as possible.”

He did not detail what this effort should include or how much it might cost, a price sure to be in the billions of dollars. Whatever the bottom line, he declared to his prime-time television audience, “We will make BP pay.”

That’s not certain, however. In declaring that BP won’t control the compensation fund for Gulf recovery, Obama failed to mention that the government won’t control it, either. The president meets BP executives in a White House showdown today.

Fifty-seven days into the crisis, oil continues to gush from the broken wellhead, millions of gallons a day, and Obama has been powerless to stem the leak. The episode has raised doubts about his leadership and his administration’s response to the disaster.

In one specific action, Obama announced that former Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich as his choice for the new head of the agency that regulates the oil industry. Obama said Bromwich’s job at the helm of the federal Minerals Management Service is to be “the oil industry’s watchdog, not its partner.” He also said that coming regulatory reforms would require stricter drilling safety measures and more robust spill response plans.

With national frustration rising, Obama sought to defend his increasingly criticized efforts and to stoke new confidence that he can see the job through until the oil is gone and Gulf Coast lives are back to normal.

He pledged not to rest until BP had been held accountable for all the damage its exploded well has caused and until the Gulf Coast region is restored. He did not repeat his earlier pledges to see the Gulf returned to “better shape than it was before.”

Likening that process to a long epidemic instead of a single crushing disaster like an earthquake or hurricane, he warned that the nation could be tied up with the oil and its aftermath for months “and even years.”

There was more bad news, too.

A government panel of scientists determined that the well is leaking even more oil than previously thought, as much as 2.52 million gallons a day — or enough to fill the Oval Office where Obama sat more than 22 times. The total spilled so far could be as much as 116 million gallons.

Obama’s overall approval rating has not yet dipped, remaining around the 50 percent mark. The public still is more eager to blame the company, with the poll showing disapproval of BP up to 83 percent.

Looking ahead to his White House showdown this morning with BP executives, Obama said he would “inform” them that the company must set aside, in an independently run fund, whatever resources are required to make whole all local residents and businesses hurt by the spill and to repair the immense ecological damage wrought by the oil.

BP has had only modest success so far in siphoning off some oil to keep it from gushing into the water. But Obama said that within weeks, “these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well.” Later in the summer, he said, the company should finish drilling a relief well to stop the leak completely.

BP officials did not immediately respond to repeated requests for comment on the president’s specific criticisms. In a brief statement, the company only said it shares Obama’s “goal of shutting off the well as quickly as possible, cleaning up the oil and mitigating the impact on the people and environment of the Gulf Coast.”