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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Should America Trust BP?
Aired May 27, 2010 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: What a day it has been.
Tonight, BP is pumping drilling mud back into its leaking well again, the so-called top kill operation apparently under way. I say apparently because we only have BP's word to go on, and, right now, not a lot of folks in Louisiana believe what they say.
Today, for 16 hours or so, BP stopped pumping drilling mud into that leak. But they didn't feel the need to mention it, not in any public statements, not, apparently, to the Coast Guard admiral supposedly in charge, and perhaps not even to the president, who just today said they don't make a decision without approval of the federal government.
Now, BP doesn't come on this program for some reason, though we invite them to every single night, but, this morning, they did appear on other shows. And even though they had stopped pumping fluids down at that point for about six or seven hours, they didn't mention it.
Here's one of their top officials on CNN this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "AMERICAN MORNING")
ROBERT DUDLEY, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, BP: But what we really need to do is try to kill this thing.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.
DUDLEY: And, so far, that operation is proceeding like we expected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: "Proceeding like we expected," he said, 16-hour shutoff. Now, maybe that was expected, but it was not reported.
It turns out too much the muddy fluid they're using to force oil back down the wellhead and kill the well was leaking out these holes. So, they stopped, refilled on fluid, weighed their options, and started pumping again just this evening, in hopes of clogging the holes enough and pumping fast enough to get more mud down into the well.
So, they don't feel the need to mention it publicly, and Admiral Thad Allen admitted today that he hadn't heard about it. He gave a press conference around 3:00 or so, saying the operation was proceeding and that the mud was being pumped.
Well, by late today, even BP admitted they dropped the ball. Here's BP's chief operating officer on "JOHN KING, USA."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JOHN KING USA")
DOUG SUTTLES, COO, GLOBAL EXPLORATION, BP: We somehow need to continually feed data out there to the public, so they know what's occurring. They're obviously able to watch the plume and the end of the riser, but we have actually said it's very difficult to tell exactly what's occurring from that.
So -- so, John, I probably should apologize for folks that we haven't actually been giving more data on that. It was nothing more than we're so focused on the operation itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The idea that they're just so focused on the operation, they can't spare anybody to actually brief the public, I mean, they have so many P.R. people and lobbyists, it is unbelievable. It's hard to believe they just forgot to mention it.
The other big news, BP and the government estimate of 5,000 barrels a day leaking, the one that the government's been using, BP has been using for more than a month now, OK, today, we learned that's wrong, way wrong. Try -- it's somewhere in the neighborhood now, according to the government, of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day. So, that's the new official government estimate, for now.
It's now officially the biggest American oil spill ever, by far, bigger than the Exxon Valdez. And the oil, of course, is still gushing.
And just today, we learned that some of that oil has formed a new massive underwater plume miles-wide, miles across heading for Mobile Bay. That's only part of the picture that President Obama will be seeing when he visits tomorrow.
Today, from Washington, he tried to set a big reset message down the chain of command, taking ownership. But, around the country, and especially down here, I have got to tell you, people are asking, what took you so long? Talking to reporters today, Mr. Obama disputed the notion that he's been slow to react and tried to make it clear he gets it. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And So my job right now is just to make sure that everybody in the Gulf understands this is what I wake up to in the morning and this is what I go to bed at night thinking about.
OBAMA: The spill. And it's not just me, by the way. You know, when I woke up this morning and I'm shaving, and Malia knocks on my bathroom door and she peeks in her head and she says, did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Now, the president -- that was him today -- he also extended the moratorium on new offshore drilling. The head of the MMS, the discredited agency in charge of drilling, she stepped down or was fired. It's not really clear. But, officially, she stepped down.
And here on the ground, the president's man on the ground, Admiral Thad Allen, spoke with us. Now, at the time, we should point out he was apparently unaware that BP had ceased pushing fluid down into the top -- in that top kill procedure. He later said he had been on helicopters all day and hadn't heard the news. He told us BP had not been doing as good a job as they should cleaning up onshore and that his own chain of command structure needs to be changed, and that he was going to go about doing that. Listen.
ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, U.S. COAST GUARD COMMANDANT: We are moving more Coast Guard people in here in positions to overlook what's going on, stand beside these folks, even be more involved in the day-to-day operations right down on the beach, because a lot of it is done by contractors right now.
So, we're in the process of actually bringing more Coast Guard people in.
COOPER: So, I mean, again, that begs the...
ALLEN: That's not federalization or a takeover. We already make decisions. It's how you execute the decisions.
COOPER: It begs the question, though, if you were dealing with this as a worst-case scenario from day one, how come you need to be bringing in more people now?
COOPER: Well, that is the question. And his answer to that question is coming up later in the program.
First, let's talk to Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser and Rice University presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.
Billy, when you heard that, for 16 hours, BP had stopped pushing mud and hadn't bothered to tell anyone, not apparently even Admiral Allen, what did you think?
BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: Well, it's par for the course.
You know, we have been dealing with this since day one. And the -- the information has not flowed on anything. You know, you were down here. We went out there and saw an area that we thought was going to be cleaned up several days after, still had not been touched in over a week.
Then we learned today that there really wasn't a plan to clean it up. So, we presented a plan today at 3:00 to BP. And, if they approve it, those crews will move tomorrow. If not, we will move those crews Saturday on our own, without the support of BP.
COOPER: And, Billy, when you hear the Coast Guard today, Admiral Allen saying, essentially, look, we -- we're making changes in our command structure to give you guys, to give the parish presidents, you know, folks who can make decisions, and things can be -- you know, things can happen much faster -- that's what you have been calling for -- do you buy it? I mean, do you believe it's going to happen?
NUNGESSER: Well, you know, I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Several of his assistants from Washington met with me this evening.
And when I showed up here in Myrtle Grove to go out to the area of the pelicans, there's a lot of equipment here on the ground. Bam, it was here overnight. There's a lot of stationed airboats, boom on barges out in the marsh ready to be deployed. We have just got to get the organization together to make that happen.
And we see the effort put forth here today. I also want to say, we got some mixed signals here today. And I just got off of an airboat. We have been out in the marsh checking on those pelicans. But we were told -- I was told by the people sent by Admiral Allen that the permit was approved for several reaches of our coastal plan.
And I was told by the -- by the Coast Guard that they were going to, through their funding mechanism for this disaster, fund those reaches and task the Corps to get started on it.
I hope we will have some private management in there to move it along quickly...
NUNGESSER: ... because the Corps procedure is a little slow.
NUNGESSER: But then I also saw "The Times-Picayune" reported that they were only paying for one reach. So, I haven't gotten confirmation of what -- is it one reach, or is it all the reaches that was approved...
NUNGESSER: ... which I believe was about 30 percent of the project.
COOPER: I want to bring in Doug Brinkley. Doug, I mean, what do you make of BP, for 16 hours, not saying anything about this? And you have the president of the United States standing up there saying, they don't make any decisions without the federal government, you know, without us making them.
And the admiral, the Coast Guard admiral, didn't even seem to know about it. He was on Wolf Blitzer's show and seemed to have been informed about it by Wolf Blitzer.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, Anderson, that's why we have been talking on CNN for the last weeks, almost a month really now, that it's unacceptable to trust BP.
Whatever they say is meant to minimize situations. They haven't been transparent. They're not honest with people. And the fact of the matter is that Thad Allen, who's a first-rate person, who did a great job during Katrina, is being compromised by BP now. He's starting to look embarrassing for it.
We have got to create a kind of command structure in Louisiana, because this top kill may not work. This could go on for months. If that's the case, you're going to have worse wildlife devastation, more people, health workers feeling dizzy, more people than just Louisiana. It could go to Mississippi, Alabama.
We could have a -- a larger national catastrophe. And what's -- I think is causing a meltdown in Louisiana, but also throughout the United States, is, we're being asked to wake up every day praying for BP to plug the hole, while we can't stand BP for being a dishonest company.
And that's a very hard kind of yin-yang emotions to have. So, we're pulling for BP to plug the thing, but we want to see them sued, and we want to see these fishermen and people that live in places like Plaquemines Parish win a lot of lawsuit against a rogue company.
COOPER: Billy, I mean, the president made a big point today saying that -- that the government, you know, has given the green light to the plan that you've been pushing. They said that the government is in control of this.
Is it your experience that -- that you feel like the government and the Coast Guard has been the overseers of BP, or do you feel it's been the other way around, that BP has been calling the shots?
NUNGESSER: Well, you were down -- you're down here. You know, you heard the stories about the Coast Guard turning back vessels because BP closed the waterways. And Governor Jindal said, these are state waterways. You can't do it.
The FAA has a person in the BP headquarters shut down many flights for a local airport that's trying to make a living, but wouldn't let them fly if they had media in the plane. Some kind of way, that relationship inter-tangled has to be severed. There needs to be somebody in charge and held accountable. And the information to the media, to the parish presidents, to the governor, it needs to be forthcoming and open and immediate. You know, hopefully, we do see a change here today. Hopefully, after the president -- I have got to be optimistic that something's going to change. It's got to change. But, you know, we -- we -- we really have got to see a big change. It's not working.
COOPER: Doug, we're going to talk to Ed Henry, who's been covering the president, to find out if he knows whether the White House knew that this mud had been stopped going for 16 hours or what the president knew when he made his press conference today, because he didn't mention it during the press conference. We're going to try to find that out later on in the program.
But -- but -- but, Douglas, as you watched the president today, what did you think of the way he was handling this or the way he was talking about this?
BRINKLEY: I think it was an important press conference and a big day for the president.
I think the retirement of Elizabeth Birnbaum of MMS was a great step in the right direction. I think the stopping of Shell from drilling in the Arctic Refuge step in the right direction. He had a buck-stops-here attitude.
But, tomorrow, I don't think it should be like when President Bush went to Jackson Square once and left. I think he needs to spend a few days in the Gulf South. I don't think this can be an in-and-out trip. He has to connect with the people, the president, of Louisiana, and say: I care.
It's Memorial Day weekend. Spend time down there. And those images -- so they won't be photo-ops, it will be a president having his White House, essentially, for a few days down there in the Gulf South, I think that might start turning around the message, that the president really is in control, he's starting to try to be the leader of this crisis.
COOPER: Doug Brinkley, appreciate your time.
And, Billy Nungesser, I know it's been a long day for you. It's going to be a long day tomorrow. And you have got a long -- a lot of long days ahead. We will talk with you tomorrow night, Billy. Thank you.
Let us know what you think. The live chat is up and running at AC360.com.
Up next: more on the president's visit tomorrow and his message from Washington today. We will talk to Democrat James Carville, whether for him Mr. Obama finally gets it. We will also talk to his Republican wife, Mary Matalin, both living here in New Orleans.
Later, let's never forget the families of the 11 oil workers killed when had this disaster began, their fight for justice, which you haven't probably heard about -- when 360 continues from New Orleans.
COOPER: Well, the president's going to be here in the region tomorrow. A lot of folks are going to be looking at that, waiting to hear what he has to say.
I can tell you that, in situations like this, people are -- they are not Democrat or Republican. They're skeptics. They're willing to listen, yes, but needing, more than anything else, to be heard, looking for answers -- a lot of people who are angry here, who are hurt, who disappointed. And, even back in Washington, it shows. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLIE MELANCON (D), LOUISIANA: Our culture is threatened. Our coastal economy is threatened. And everything that I know and love is at risk.
Even though this marsh lies along coastal Louisiana, these are America's wetlands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That's Congressman Charlie Melancon of Louisiana's 3rd District on Capitol Hill, heartsick for his home.
The question is, in the face of such deep wounds, can President Obama connect? What can he do? What should he do?
"Raw Politics" now from Ed Henry.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president's message again and again: I'm in charge.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In case you were wondering who's responsible, I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down.
It doesn't mean that we're not going to make mistakes. But there shouldn't be any confusion here: The federal government is fully engaged. And I'm fully engaged.
HENRY: But there seemed to be a disconnect, after days of the president's own aides insisting BP was in control.
QUESTION: I want to be clear that I understand what you're saying, that you're legally not allowed to take sort of command-and- control of the whole situation.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, no, no. No, again, we're -- we're -- Jennifer, we -- they're responsible for and we are overseeing the recovery response.
HENRY: Mr. Obama was now saying the government has been running the show all along.
OBAMA: The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort. As far as I'm concerned, BP is responsible for this horrific disaster. And we will continue to take full advantage of the unique technology and expertise they have to help stop this leak.
But make no mistake: BP is operating at our direction.
HENRY: That was news to lawmakers from here in Louisiana, still angry Governor Bobby Jindal's request for the feds to help build barriers for the wetlands fell through the cracks.
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: Today, the president held a press conference where he -- he said that he's been in charge from day one. And -- and I have just got to disagree. If this has been his top priority, and if he's been in charge from day one, then why is it that it took more than 16 days to get an answer from our governor and our local officials who submitted a plan to protect the marsh from the oil?
HENRY: Also confusion about the ouster of Liz Birnbaum, head of the agency in charge of offshore drilling permits, a chance to show the White House was cleaning house. But, oddly, the president seemed out of the loop.
OBAMA: If it was a resignation, then she would have submitted a letter to Mr. Salazar this morning at a time when I had a whole bunch of other stuff going on.
QUESTION: So you rule out that she was fired?
OBAMA: I'm -- come on, Jackie. I don't know. I'm telling you the -- I found out about it this morning. So I don't yet know the circumstances.
COOPER: Ed Henry joins me now.
Now the backstory -- I mean, we didn't know when watching that press conference that the mud that had been supposedly being pushed down into this well, into this leak, had actually been stopped being pushed down at midnight last night. Do we know, did the president know when he was speaking?
HENRY: Just got off the phone with a White House official who says, look, people inside the White House knew that mud had stopped flowing. They're not sure if the president knew. They don't think he did, because they say that's kind of deep in the weeds. He's not going to be micromanaging every single decision that BP and the government officials here on the ground make. And they say the bottom line for them is that they didn't tell the public earlier because the White House didn't believe that it was that big of a deal, the mud -- stopping the flow. It would have been a bigger deal if the entire operation stopped. And they want to make that distinction, that, even when the mud stopped flowing, other things were being done by BP, bridging. They were testing. They were still moving forward. The operation had not been aborted.
Nevertheless, I think the bottom line is that lack of disclosure overall is going to lead people perhaps to wonder. It's not necessarily as black and white as the president made about, look, the government's in control.
COOPER: Right. I mean...
HENRY: There are decisions being made minute by minute. It's a little more gray.
COOPER: Well, it's not just that -- it's understandable that maybe the president didn't know, but -- but, you know, that the admiral on the ground here who's in charge, Thad Allen, did not know, you know...
HENRY: And the president mentioned -- mentioned him over and over, that from day one we have been on top of this because Thad Allen has been on the ground as the commander.
COOPER: Right. And Thad Allen said in a press conference around 3:00 that, you know, the mud is still going down, that the operation is under way, and things are still going as planned.
Clearly, you know, that he found out on CNN is telling, on a day when the president is making the message the federal government is in charge.
HENRY: Right. And it makes you wonder how this information is really flowing around, how much it's really being coordinated. And you can understand the frustration here on the ground.
Ed Henry, appreciate the reporting. Thanks. We will talk to Ed more, because the president is going to be here on the ground.
More on the political dimension right now, but also the local impact, with political strategists James Carville and Mary Matalin. I spoke to them earlier.
COOPER: What did you think about what the president said?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, let's start out with a couple of things. Let's be favorable here to start.
He did say that New Orleans, that it's open for business, the Gulf Coast. That is very true. We're sitting right here in the middle of the city. It's like in a nice night. There's a kind of breeze coming. There's no -- don't believe any of this stuff about it smells.
CARVILLE: Everything is fine down here. I didn't think it was a good press conference, I will be honest with you. I was not -- I don't -- and I don't think anybody else did either. I just don't...
COOPER: Do you believe him when you -- when he says the federal government is in charge?
MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, going to the point of the -- the atmospherics of this -- and Steve Scalise, congressman from here, says it -- they talk like John Wayne and they act like Pee-wee Herman.
I mean, that's what has been going on. In fairness to the president, he's not an emotive guy. And he's juxtapositioned with Billy Nungesser and all those parish presidents, and the governor and the people who are suffering through this.
He did acknowledge these people live there, work there, have for generations. That was important. More importantly -- and you've seen this -- and you heard what the governor and the Plaquemines Parish -- all the parish presidents -- wanted was situational awareness, real- time response. And the admiral today did that.
COOPER: Right. Admiral -- Admiral Thad Allen says that's going to happen, that he's basically flattening out his command, that they're going to have more power at the center.
But you're sort of scoffing at that.
CARVILLE: I'm not scoffing. I mean, I think -- look, I think anything is good. And I think Admiral Allen had an incredible record in Katrina.
You know, I just think that the president -- you saw Congressman Charles Melancon, whose district is most impacted by this. He was emotional today, distressed that people feel down here. I don't think that -- that the people in Washington really understand that.
And I don't think that they understand the -- the depth of what this means to us. I mean, to them, in some extent, it's land, it's water, what the heck. And I think, if the president comes down and sees that and spends some time -- and that's why I saw that Senator Landrieu was critical of the president for not spending enough time. Until you see it and feel it and know it and instinctively see what's going on, it's -- it's not an intellectual exercise. It's a very, very human thing that is happening here in Louisiana.
COOPER: For the first time today, we learned, according to the government now, this spill is anywhere from 12,000 gallons a day to 19,000 gallons a day.
CARVILLE: I mean, guess what? And then it's going to be updated in a few weeks. And it's going to be, well, gee, you know what? It's really like 20,000 or 35,000.
COOPER: But what is remarkable to me is that, all along, the government, NOAA, has been agreeing with BP that it doesn't really matter how -- how much oil is pouring out, which just, logically, I -- again, boggles my mind.
CARVILLE: But -- but -- because it doesn't matter what the government or BP tell us. We don't believe it anymore.
The information itself has no credibility to people down here. And so -- and you knew -- still, they have got a guy from Purdue who was saying it was 70,000. You know, who knows? It can't -- it's hard to get an answer. And it's very important.
Now we find out today that an oceanographer from the University of South Florida found a six-mile thing coming up on Mobile Bay. Why don't they have the people from Woods Hole, the people from Scripps, the finest oceanographers in the world out in the Gulf charting this stuff, finding out where it is, telling us what's going on? That's what people need to know.
We need the information. It's not forthcoming as far as I can see. It really isn't.
COOPER: Do you think change is going to happen tomorrow, after President Obama comes here? I mean, Thad Allen is already saying: There's going to be changes starting today, because the command structure is different. I'm giving more power to people at the local level, and -- and we're going to be pushing this thing.
MATALIN: It needs -- that was a prerequisite to anything...
COOPER: That should have happened three weeks ago?
MATALIN: But they need the resources that only the feds can send down, if there are tankers, are there are more dredges or whatever it is. They -- they can have a better command structure, but they do not have the vessels. And it's just like the boom. Again, he's citing numbers that are nonexistent. That boom is not here. It's not a be-all and an end- all, but you can't just say those numbers and they go to the wrong place or they don't show up at all.
We don't -- we hope, we pray, we pray -- and let's be clear again, the governor and Billy and everybody you have met down there are -- are -- are going to -- are -- have been giving the president the benefit of the doubt. And they want to -- as Billy said today, I'm going to look him in the eye, and I want to see that he understands.
And then he has to follow up.
COOPER: It's an important day tomorrow.
MATALIN: It's in his hands, too.
CARVILLE: Yes. And I -- again, I just really think the big thing that people need -- I mean, I know this -- they -- they want to be told and they want to be assured and they want to be convinced that they're not going to be abandoned because BP already -- you know, Anderson, they are already gaming this and trying to get this in front of a friendly judge in Houston.
CARVILLE: They're already gaming this, trying to get people to sign this pledge. The CEO said, look, this is a minor thing. This is not going to be much environmental consequence.
They are ready to abandon us. And I -- this is what I really believe. This is what I want the president to say. There's a great story on Bloomberg (INAUDIBLE) at -- over 10 times on this network, I have called for this, a criminal investigation.
These people, in order for anybody to be convinced, justice has to be done here. BP and its senior officers have to be subject to a grand jury investigation. And, if they're guilty of something, they have got to be brought to the bar of justice.
That is what -- and then, when -- if you give them the choice between going to jail or paying the claims in a fair way, they're going to pay the claims in a fair wail, because I'm going to tell you what. Tony Hayward, he would not fare well in a Louisiana prison. I promise you that. It would not be a good place for him to be.
MATALIN: And that's fine, Little Bob and all the rest in Angola. I get it.
MATALIN: That's fine. That's the future.
Boot on the neck -- they haven't even had a ballet slipper on their neck. He can say all that. Tomorrow is about today. Fix it today. Stop it today.
MATALIN: If these dispersants are causing ill health -- and they were not masked, these fishermen, who can't fish now, so they have to do this work -- fix what -- the damage, the horror that's going on today. We will deal with BP tomorrow.
CARVILLE: It will -- I will tell you what. You issue some grand jury subpoena, it will get fixed pronto, pronto. Nothing will bring action like that.
COOPER: All right.
James Carville, Mary Matalin, thank you. I appreciate it.
MATALIN: Thank you.
COOPER: Just want to again reiterate, we invite BP, as always, to be on this program. We try to look at things from all different sides on this program, really would like to have their perspective.
Up next, the local fishermen and others who make a living from the Gulf say they are still waiting for the money BP promised to pay them. We're "Keeping Them Honest."
And the families of the 11 fallen oil workers, their search for answers and for justice -- a little-known law that may be depriving them of justice. We will talk about that ahead with two members of the family of one of the fallen -- next.
COOPER: Since the first days of this disaster, BP has waged a massive PR campaign, claiming it's doing everything possible to stop the leak. The company has also publicized its payments, insisting it has handed out more than $35 million for claims received in connection with the spill. That may be true, but many fishermen and others who make a living from the Gulf say BP has left them high and dry so far.
Here's Ed Lavandera.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Chris Battle and his crew of crabbers want more than just talk from BP. They want money.
(on camera) How much money do you think you lost?
CHRIS BATTLE, CRAB FISHERMAN: Oh, close to $20,000, $30,000. You know. I mean, that's -- it's a good bill.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Crab fishing waters closed for more than three weeks because of the oil spill, leaving these guys out of work. When Battle filed his claim with BP, all he got was a $5,000 check.
BATTLE: At this time of year, like, I mean, I'm catching $2,500 to $3,000 worth of crabs a day. And they wrote me a check for $5,000. It's just not enough. It's not -- it's not what I lost. I mean, if you go by what I lost, I lost way more than that.
LAVANDERA: Deckhand Derek Bennett says he only got a $725 check for the three weeks he was out of work. And he says he can't find out from the claims rep if more money is coming.
DERRICK BENNETT, CRAB FISHERMAN: He tells me to call him back every week. I call him back every week, it's the same (EXPLETIVE DELETED) over and over again.
LAVANDERA (on camera): So far BP says it has paid more than $35 million on about 27,000 settlements. The company promises that this is just the beginning, that it's only a partial settlement. But around here, people who make a living off the Gulf waters say it's going to take a lot more than that to make things right.
(voice-over) Anger is spreading across the Gulf Coast, and many business owners like Buggy Vegas don't trust BP to pay up.
(on camera) So business has completely disappeared?
BUGGIE VEGAS, BUSINESS OWNER: Just -- I sold four cups of coffee this morning.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Vegas owns the Bridgeside Marina in Grand Isle. He filed a claim more than two weeks ago, and he's still waiting for a check.
(on camera) What have they told you that you can get?
VEGAS: They're putting us in a large claim, and they said we could get $5,000.
LAVANDERA: Just that? That's it?
VEGAS: That's what the large claim.
LAVANDERA: One check for $5,000?
VEGAS: That's what they tell us. That don't even pay the light bill.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): At town-hall sessions, BP claim representatives are getting an earful from angry folks out of work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When that oil is gone, BP is going to be gone, too.
LAVANDERA: But the company vows to bring more money and streamline the process.
ALAN CARPENTER, BP CONTRACTOR: We're doing as much as we can as quick as we can as far as that goes. That is not the end.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are taking the next step within -- actually, we've begun taking the larger claims which affect businesses like yours. It wasn't there in the first 30 days, you're right. But it's now time for the second phase.
LAVANDERA: Those are just words for Chris Bennett and his crab- trapping crew. They won't count on any more money from BP until they see it.
COOPER: So basically, I mean, there seems to be a real logjam and just lack of organization.
LAVANDERA: Well, it's going pretty slowly, I think, at least from the fishermen's standpoint and the business owners along the Gulf Coast here. What's going to be interesting to hear in the weeks ahead is how quickly those -- that second round of payments that they're promising comes.
COOPER: They say when you use a term like "primed for the second round," I get worried. That sort of sounds...
LAVANDERA: There's also a clause in one of the things that says if -- if it's needed when this event is over. So I think there's going to be a lot of room for debate as to what can and cannot be. I think that's going to be the basis of a lot of lawsuits going forward. At what point do you stop paying out? You know, it's like you've got the shrimper who needs gas for his boat.
LAVANDERA: So does the guy who sells him gas? Does he qualify? You backtrack from there. And it goes not only to Louisiana but all the way to the Florida coast, where you've seen hotel cancellations...
LAVANDERA: ... and that sort of thing.
COOPER: And these whole communities are really dependent on this industry. So it really does decimate whole communities.
COOPER: Ed Lavandera, thanks for the reporting.
Coming up next on the program, accusations of putting profits over lives. Family members of the men killed in the oil-drill explosion demanding justice. A little-known law that may need to be changed, according to them. We'll talk to the father and brother of one of the victims, Gordon Jones, coming up.
And later, the truth about the toll on the animals. Are the real numbers being kept secret? The story ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COOPER: On Capitol Hill today, heartbreaking, difficult but important testimony from the father of Gordon Jones today. Gordon was an engineer, one of the 11 men who perished on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig last month. Speaking to the House Judiciary Committee, Keith Jones talked about his son.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH JONES, FATHER OF GORDON JONES: We know that Gordon's body was cremated. Then the fireboats washed his ashes out to sea. I admit that having nothing to say good-bye to is much, much harder than I thought it would be. Call it closure or whatever. Something is missing for us.
If you want these companies, one of which is headquartered in Great Britain and another in Switzerland, to make every effort to make sure their employees don't act as these did, putting American lives at risk, you must make certain they are exposed to pain in the only place they can feel it, their bank accounts. As a friend recently said, make them hurt where their heart would be if they had a heart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Keith Jones and Gordon's brother, Chris Jones, joins me now.
Keith and Chris, I'm so sorry for your loss. And I know this is difficult. I know being on television is not something you are looking to do, but I know you feel it's important not only to let people know about Gordon and the others who lost their lives, but also to bring justice to their families.
I want to talk about the justice part in a moment. But Keith, just tell me a little bit about Gordon.
K. JONES: Gordon was someone who everybody remembered once they'd met him. He was a great family man, loyal to his friends and sort of a one-in-a-million kind of guy, because as I said it many times when he was alive, everybody liked Gordon. Everybody liked Gordon. He didn't have a mean bone in his body.
He had a wonderful marriage to Michelle. He had a wonderful family, and he was looking so forward to having it grow.
COOPER: And Chris, how -- how are Michelle and the kids and, I mean, how are you doing?
CHRIS JONES, GORDON'S BROTHER: Well, Michelle had a baby, I think, 13 days ago. So the family's really focused on that. Michelle's doing OK. The baby's healthy, fortunately. And we're really trying to stay together as a family and look towards the future in that regard.
COOPER: Keith, you were on Capitol Hill today about a law that I had never heard of, and I think a lot of people haven't heard of. There's a federal law that, basically, if you die at sea, your dependents are not eligible for anything. What is the law?
K. JONES: It's the Death on the High Seas Act. It was enacted originally in 1920 in response to the sinking of the Titanic. And it doesn't mean -- actually, it means some relatives get nothing, but if you are dependent upon the person who dies at sea, you can recover pecuniary losses only.
And by that in Gordon's case, for example, it means only the loss of his future income, minus what he'd have to pay in income taxes, minus what he would consume himself, and then reduced to present value by an economist.
Michelle would recover nothing for the loss of the love of her life, nothing for the loss of the father of her children, nothing for the loss of the man she wanted to grow old with. The boys recover nothing for the loss of their dad, nothing for the loss of his guidance, his love, nothing. It is an antiquated, backward law.
COOPER: And it's been amended once for -- because a commercial airliner, I understand, crashed into the seas, and they amended if people die in an airliner at sea. So you want it amended now, for oil rigs?
K. JONES: Exactly. Well, it ought to apply to anybody who dies at sea. I don't know why -- I don't know why airline passengers are more special than oil-rig workers. But I don't know why oil-rig workers are more special, for example, than cruise-ship passengers or anybody else who dies at sea as a result of the fault of another.
COOPER: The law was originally passed to protect the owners of the Titanic, not the people who died on the Titanic, correct?
K. JONES: Well, it was passed four years after the Titanic sank, because at the time there was no recovery at all for people who died at sea, nothing. And it actually was passed so that people could recover something. But...
COOPER: I see.
K. JONES: But our idea of what fair compensation was in 1920 is a lot different from what it is today, and it's better. It's wiser today, more responsible today.
COOPER: Chris, what -- have you -- your brother worked for Transocean. I know there was a service by Transocean. Have you -- what has BP said to you? Have you gotten sympathy card from them or a call from them?
C. JONES: Before I answer that, I'll make one correction. Gordon worked for a subcontractor of BP called Immis Swasher (ph).
COOPER: OK. I apologize.
C. JONES: I did -- that's OK. I did attend a memorial event in Jackson, Mississippi, on Tuesday that was put on by Transocean. It was very well done. I can see footage from here. It was tough. We saw a lot of the families there. What I didn't see is the BP executives or anybody come up to us. And they haven't. In the month...
COOPER: You haven't heard from BP?
C. JONES: In the month or so since this accident, we haven't heard a single word from BP. In fact, after the memorial event, I saw them rushing out the back door jumping into tinted-window SUVs with private media to avoid the media.
Today at the hearing there was a BP representative ten feet away who didn't look at us, didn't say a word to us. And honestly, it's an insult. You know, they're going to take responsibility for the economic damages. And that's what they talked about today. They haven't said a word about the families of the victims of this explosion on April 20.
COOPER: Keith and Chris Jones, I appreciate you being on tonight. Again, I know you're not seeking publicity. This is not something you want to be talking about, especially at a time like this when you're grieving. Please give our best to the rest of your family and Michelle, and our thoughts and our prayers are with you.
K. JONES: Thank you very much.
C. JONES: Thank you.
COOPER: Coming up next on the program, my interview with the commander leading the federal response here in the Gulf, Admiral Thad Allen. His remarks about the handling of this catastrophe and the scope of the growing crisis.
COOPER: You heard a bit from Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen at the top of the program. I talked to him earlier today at his command center, one of the command centers in Venice.
He was dealing with a lot at the time. He was dealing -- I asked him, though, if he was dealing with this as a worst-case scenario from the beginning of this, as they've been saying, why are they now having to bring in more people and booms?
I also asked him if this is an urgent national crisis, why it doesn't seem that way as you go to the marshlands around Pass-a-Loutre as we did yesterday and you see all that oil that's untouched in the reeds already?
Here's more of our conversation.
COOPER: I want to talk about the coastal cleanup and the response on top of the water, not what's happening down below. I mean, because that's where the biggest criticism has been.
Today the president said the federal government is in charge. On Monday I think you were asked that question. You seemed reticent to say that the federal government was in charge. A lot of people here kind of ask that question. Is -- they feel like BP is running the show. Are you in charge?
ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, COAST GUARD: Oh, there's no doubt the federal government's in charge. By law, the federal coordinator directs the responses, but BP has to be involved, because they're the responsible party and they bear the cost.
And I don't think people should confuse the responsibility to contract resources and get them out there with people who's in charge because of priorities and the direction is given by the federal on- scene (ph) coordinator, which is the United States Coast Guard, and that ultimately is representing the federal government.
COOPER: As you know, there's a lot of frustration with the local officials. I talked to Bill Nungesser yesterday, a parish president of Plaquemines Parish.
He says that, you know, he has a Coast Guard representative, but that they don't stick around very long. They keep getting changed and that they don't have decision-making authority and that they seem to be deferring to BP.
ALLEN: We've assigned a senior officer to all the parish presidents' local area. And they were sent out with a senior officer with them today. They had direct communications with the incident command post, and to the extent that was a problem, it's been done away with.
COOPER: Has that been a problem?
ALLEN: They said it was. And at this point if they think it's a problem, we should deal with it.
COOPER: What do you make of -- we went out to Pass-a-Loutre yesterday, which is one of the areas that's been hit, one of the marsh areas.
And again, the governor was there. Billy Nungesser was there, and they very were upset that basically for a week there's been oil sitting in these marshes and that BP came out, put booms out after they were alerted that oil was there. No one's picked up the absorbent booms. They're just sitting out there, and the oil is still in marshes.
ALLEN: Well, that's the reason I came down here today. I've heard the criticism, and I've -- we talked to the parish presidents ourselves. I've met with several of them. I need to lay eyes on them.
And as you know, until two days ago, I was also the commandant of the Coast Guard. And what I'm doing is I'm assessing their effectiveness and I'm finding out there's variances around the coast. And the same things we need to do to support down here at Plaquemines parish. We're making some changes.
COOPER: There's been some talk of the federal government taking over. Is that one area where the federal government could possibly take over, the actual long-shore clean-up?
ALLEN: Well, when they say "federal government takeover," I'm not sure what that means, because the federal government's already established in the priorities that directed the response. I think the question is, should it be a larger federal presence in terms of people on scene?
And I talked to Secretary Napolitano. We are moving more close to (ph) our people in here in positions that overlook what's going on, stand beside these folks, even be more evolved in the day-to-day operations right down in the peaks (ph). A lot of it's done by contractors right now. So we're in the process of actually bringing more Coast Guard people in.
COOPER: So I mean, again, I've met with several of them.
ALLEN: But that's not federalization or takeover. We already make the decisions. It's how you execute the decisions.
COOPER: It begs the question, though, if you were dealing with this as a worst-case scenario from day one, how come you need to be bringing in more people now?
ALLEN: It's a command and control issue related to effective the response has been, not the -- when I say resources, I mean boom and things like that. You learn as you go through the life cycle of an event, you should adapt and you should change. If you do not, and you're not doing it right, we need to be able to adapt and we are.
COOPER: When you heard Billy Nungesser -- I'm sure heard from him yesterday. He was pretty upset. He was upset with you. He said he thought you should step down.
ALLEN: I serve at the pleasure of the president.
COOPER: I should just point out that a lot of good, hardworking Coast Guard people on that site today, working literally around the clock long hours. They don't get a lot of -- a lot of praise, but they're certainly working very, very hard.
Let's check in on some other stories that we're following. Joe Johns joins us with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a little bit of breaking news here in Washington, D.C. The U.S. House has voted to repeal the law that bans gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military but only after some conditions are met. The measure is part of a defense bill. A final vote on that bill is expected tomorrow. Gary Coleman is in a Utah hospital where officials say he's in critical condition. No other information is being released. The 42- year-old actor is perhaps best known for his role in the 1980s sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes."
And a big rally on Wall Street sent blue chip stocks soaring nearly 300 points. China dismissed reports that it is reviewing its investments of European bonds, and that is the thing that triggered those big gains. So a tiny bit of good news from Wall Street, Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Joe, thanks for that.
Still ahead, what happened to the animals rescued from the oil in the Gulf? We have an update on one of the birds that we found yesterday, plus a look at how many animals are really affected by the spill. We investigate next.
COOPER: We've seen up close the devastation this disaster is bringing to wildlife in the Gulf. Last night on the program we showed you two birds that had been rescued when we were with Governor Jindal. Tonight, we have new information about one of the birds.
At the same time, there are new charges being made against BP, some accusations that it's somehow trying to prevent the public from knowing the exact toll the oil spill is having on animals. Rob Marciano looks into it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Harold, can you warm the water up a little bit? Can you put some hot water in it? Take his wings out. And just kind of gently -- he's got very tiny, little, soft bones so I want to be careful with them.
ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Jay Holcomb runs this bird rescue center, one of several crews BP hired to rehabilitate wildlife. He's been cleaning and caring for oil-covered birds from almost the start of the spill. But this week, something changed. He was asked to remove the list of bird casualties from his Web site.
(on camera) This morning we checked, and they're no longer being posted by you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
MARCIANO: Why is that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because we've been asked to have people call the joint information center so they can give them to people rather than having to post it. That was a decision made by BP, so I'm not sure why.
MARCIANO: Do you have any guesses why they would do that? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I really don't know why. We just follow the -- the command structure at this point.
MARCIANO (voice-over): BP says they have nothing to hide. They just want to have one source for the public. The Sierra Club's Jill Mastrototaro wants more.
JILL MASTROTOTARO, SIERRA CLUB: It sounds like there's a cone of silence that's been issued on the situation. We're very concerned as an environmental organization trying to get the public's voice out there and trying to get access to this critical information.
MARCIANO: And it's not just information about birds that some people say is lacking; information about other animals is far from comprehensive. We know 24 dolphins and 212 turtles have died since the spill. How many actually died from the oil? No answers yet.
Tissue samples from some of the animals are being tested by NOAA. What the results are and when they'll finally be done is something even the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is curious about. We asked them today by phone.
CHARLIE HEBERT, U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE: We are very curious. I asked the same questions. And I'm waiting for the same answers that you are, frankly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm done with washing him. He's clean. He came off really fast. So that's good.
I know the importance of it is you just tell people what's happening so that they know. And there's nothing to be ashamed of. There's already an oil spill. It can't be hidden. It's very big. And I think you let people know the facts, and that's it.
COOPER: That was Rob Marciano reporting. We have more from the Gulf at the top of the hour, and we'll be here tomorrow night as well. Join us.