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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Oil Spill: Gulf Coast Catastrophe
Aired July 2, 2010 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening from Louisiana.
A lot of important news on the BP spill to get to tonight, but, first, I want to wish you all a great and happy Fourth of July holiday weekend. Have fun. Be safe. If you're in though, in New Orleans area, stop by. The city is open for business. There's amazing live music. The seafood is fantastic, and, of course, the seafood is safe to eat all along the Gulf.
This is day 74 of the BP disaster and with each new day new developments to talk about.
Let's get you caught up right now on the latest with Randi Kaye -- Randi.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Anderson.
BP says high winds caused the containment cap on its oil well to wobble today. That led to a slight drop in oil collection. Meanwhile, Admiral Thad Allen today says oil skimming capability has actually increased fivefold since the beginning of June. Even so, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says local parishes are still waiting for their cleanup equipment.
And a new forecast by NOAA says there's an 80 percent chance that the oil will reach Miami -- that's right, Miami -- by the middle of August. That oil has already made its way to the Florida Panhandle, where a new health advisory was issued tonight for all Pensacola beaches.
It is a disastrous start for the holiday weekend throughout the Gulf.
CNN's John Zarrella joins us now from Pensacola, where the wind apparently has really picked up and just knocked out our satellite signal. But we do have John on the phone.
John, take me through what's going on over there, would you?
We don't have -- we don't have John Zarrella with us.
But we do have another guest here tonight. We have Kaare Johnson, who is a -- a radio host here in New Orleans. How are you?
KAARE JOHNSON, WIST-AM, NEW ORLEANS: Good, Randi. How are you doing?
So, tell me, what -- what are your listeners are telling you? Here we are, July Fourth weekend. We know that tourism is a mess in -- in Florida, at the Panhandle there. Here, we have a big festival in New Orleans.
KAYE: So, it's pretty crowded, but still lots of folks really unhappy as we enter the holiday weekend. So, what are you hearing?
JOHNSON: Well, its day 74, and you would think we would have a lot more progress on keeping this oil off Louisiana's coast. And it is affecting tourism, from the Panhandle of Florida to the beaches of Alabama, beaches of Mississippi, and New Orleans.
And I think how it affects New Orleans is restaurants, seafood. We're close to the -- to the Gulf. So, I think people are a little nervous. So when they're planning a trip, it's probably, let's go to Six Flags, instead of going to New Orleans, where there could be oil or we're not going to be able to eat that seafood.
KAYE: Right. It affects the businesses here, the small businesses who are already having a hard time.
I want to ask you about this. Yesterday, we were on a boat with Governor Bobby Jindal here in Louisiana. And we talked to him about these rock jetties that he has been trying to put up all along the coast here, but especially in Barataria Bay, which is right where the Gulf comes in --
KAYE: -- closer to the coast. It goes right through that pass.
So, he wanted to put these rock jetties there. He has been asking the federal government now for more than a month. He met with the President a month ago today to get approval and to get a permit.
We just heard from a guy tonight who is sitting and waiting with barges full of limestone rock, came here from Kentucky, has been sitting there for four days now waiting to put this rock in the water. And now he tells us that the Army Corps of Engineers has gone home for the holiday weekend.
KAYE: Does -- now, we have tried to reach the Army Corps of Engineers. No luck. We had all of our folks calling them.
But does any of that surprise you? JOHNSON: Not really. Every -- everything is a wait and see. Everything is EPA, Coast Guard approval. It's obnoxious.
This A-Whale, this big ship that comes into the Gulf, it takes in oil and discharges less oil and water, and they're worried about what it's discharging. It's taking it in from the Gulf. It's discharging less oil. They should be happy to have it.
KAYE: But -- but the idea that somebody is waiting with these -- with these rocks --
JOHNSON: Oh, no. And that's the same thing.
KAYE: That could stop the oil from coming right up to the coast.
JOHNSON: Randi, it's the same exact deal, the same thing. It's processes, bureaucracy, permitting. And you want to know what's ironic? Mississippi, Alabama, Florida have these rock jetties at their inlets, at their passes.
KAYE: Yes. And the governor has said that the rocks --
JOHNSON: So, this is -- it's a no-brainer.
KAYE: -- the rocks actually could have stayed in place and prevented some of the oil during the hurricane.
But we do have John Zarrella on the phone now.
John, we tried to get to you a moment ago.
What is the situation there in the Panhandle of Pensacola? What are you seeing in terms of tourism there?
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): Well, Randy, we're just seeing the worst possible scenario for them.
While the restaurants were crowded this evening and they seem to be doing a pretty brisk business on Pensacola Beach, as far as the -- the occupancy at the hotels, advanced bookings were canceled. Fifty percent of those were canceled. They usually have about 100,000 tourists here on a July 4th weekend.
That's not the case at all this time around. The beaches were pretty much deserted today. Of course, in Escambia County, where Pensacola lies, they have basically shut the beaches here, told folks, don't go in the water. Don't step in the tar. It's an oil advisory that they have issued, although a lot of folks that we saw today who were at the beach -- there weren't that many of them -- but those that were here, many of them did venture into the water, despite the warnings -- Randi.
KAYE: Yes. And it seems, you know, a lot of the iReports that we get from our viewers, they seem to be coming from Pensacola, lot of tar, a lot of big brown blobs on those beaches there. Did you get a chance to go out to the beach?
ZARRELLA: Yes, absolutely. We have been out here pretty much on and off all day today and yesterday.
And what you see is, the sad part about it is, the crews are out here. They're working. They're picking up the tar balls. They're picking up what they can. But then the tides move in. And the tides shift the sand around.
We were out here with a councilman yesterday, and we had a little shovel, and we dug down about six inches, and you literally can see rings of tar four or five, six inches below the top, no matter where you dig. It's just everywhere underneath. It's horrible.
All right, John Zarrella for us, Kaare Johnson, thank you both, guys. Good to see you both tonight. Have a good holiday weekend.
KAYE: And now let's hand it back to -- Anderson.
COOPER: Randi thanks.
Next on 360: "Keeping Them Honest", the big break that Washington gave BP to drill for oil in the Gulf and what it says about the cozy relationship between the government and the oil industry, and what it may have led to. That's ahead.
Also tonight, Jimmy Buffett, the "Big 360 Interview": strong words from the singer about BP, the spill, and life on the Gulf Coast.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And when you see that, you know, five years after Katrina, yet again, it's threatened, it's hard to believe that this city is yet again being threatened.
JIMMY BUFFETT, MUSICIAN: Yes. You know, it is.
I mean, the first thing that comes up is, you're not human if anger isn't your first emotion, having grown up down here. But what are you going to do with it, I think, is the question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And later: saving sea turtles, victims of the disaster. We'll take you to the center that is treating them -- coming up on 360.
COOPER: Welcome back.
Tonight, "Keeping Them Honest," and a look at how people in power gave BP a free pass to drill. I'm talking about the federal agency in charge of regulating BP and other oil companies. It has a new name now and a new boss, but it was business as usual for the agency.
And, as you'll see, it gave BP a loophole that let it operate in the Gulf without revealing the possible risks to the environment.
Joe Johns investigates.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before it ever began drilling out in the Gulf, BP got an extraordinary gift from the government. The agency that regulates offshore oil exploration declared it didn't believe the Deepwater Horizon would cause any environmental damage, so BP deserved a pass.
BP would not be required to comply with a tough law that would have forced the oil giant to fully assess what risks its rig might pose to the environment.
JOHNS (on camera): Because it got this pass, here's what BP did not have to do.
It didn't have to produce information for a detailed inquiry into the equipment it was using or the place where it was drilling. And it didn't have to answer a key question: could there be an accident affecting the environment? In other words, BP got to pass up the final and toughest test in the environmental process.
(voice-over): That final environmental review would have taken time. It would have itemized in detail all the things that could go wrong, and how that could hurt the environment. And that would almost certainly have delayed final approval to drill.
(on camera): Instead, BP got that pass from the agency at the Interior Department that was supposed to regulate it.
But "Keeping Them Honest", as bad as all this sounds, it gets worse. It wasn't just BP there are other oil companies that got the very same pass. There are hundreds of projects in the Gulf right now that never had to go through that critical final environmental review.
KIERAN SUCKLING, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY: So the whole system is broken. And it's not about BP having some individualized way of gaming the system. The oil industry has gamed the entire system from top to bottom.
JOHNS: Documents supplied to congressional investigators by that Interior Department agency, the MMS, show that since President Obama took office, 254 oil development plans and 226 exploration plans in the Gulf were approved without the final environmental review.
The documents also show that every administration dating back to the first President Bush used the loophole. And they actually used it more often than Obama. Now, though, it could end. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're also closing the loophole that has allowed some oil companies to bypass some critical environmental reviews.
JOHNS: But even if the administration closes the loophole, what about all those other projects currently operating in the Gulf?
SUCKLING: You really need to go back and redo that entire decision, to allow it in the first place. Instead what's happening is the Department of Interior is allowing those bad decisions to stand and then trying to kind of come in around the back and fix it with safety inspections. And that's just not good enough. You've really got to go back to square one on this stuff.
JOHNS (voice-over): But sometimes starting over is hard to do, especially if you've already gotten the lease, leased the rig, and hired the crew. Erik Milito is with the American Petroleum Institute.
ERIK MILITO, UPSTREAM DIRECTOR, AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE: You don't want to hurt that industry any more. You want to protect the jobs that are down there, and this industry provides a lot of economic input and a lot of jobs to that Gulf region.
JOHNS: There are other environmental reviews prior to this one BP and others did not have to pass but none as rigorous.
(on camera): In fact, the law allows 30 days for this review. But given the slow pace of government bureaucracy, nobody believes they get through it in just 30 days. And that's another reason why the agency gave the industry a pass.
(voice-over): The Interior Department won't comment because of pending litigation, but now the whole process is being reexamined by the White House; too late to help the Gulf.
Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Along with the cozy relationship with regulators, BP has also been plagued with safety questions, and some have come from some of their own employees, who say BP puts profit over people.
BP has been aware of safety concerns from its workers. And for the last four years, they have paid for an internal watchdog unit to investigate the allegations, and if true, do something about them.
Well, that was the promise. But we have learned something startling. BP is trying to eliminate that program.
Special investigations unit correspondent, Drew Griffin reports.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATION UNIT: For 26 years, Jeanne Pascal was a lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency, investigating and helping to prosecute some of the worst environmental polluters in the northwest, including oil companies in Alaska. And the worst of the worst, she says, is British Petroleum.
(on camera): You describe BP as a serial environmental criminal.
JEANNE PASCAL, FORMER ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ATTORNEY: I have.
GRIFFIN: Do you believe that?
PASCAL: I do.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): BP has pled guilty to illegally discharging oil in Alaska and also faces a criminal complaint, alleging it violated clean air and water laws.
Pascal retired earlier this year, so she is now free to speak out about a company she says repeatedly violates environmental laws.
PASCAL: From my perspective, BP has, for a long time, been a company that is interested in profits first and foremost, safety and health and environment are subjugated to profit-making and I do not think that it has changed.
GRIFFIN: In congressional hearings after the fatal explosion at BP's Texas refinery in 2005, lawmakers asked BP's then CEO: "Did workers warn about safety issues at the plant?" He said they had not. There were then questions about whether they feared retaliation for speaking up.
(on camera): Bottom line -- after pressure from lawmakers, BP opened an independent ombudsman's office to manage and to hear the safety concerns of its workers. It's run by a former federal judge, just not here in Alaska.
It's a very small office, tucked away inside this office building here in Washington, D.C. But British Petroleum has been running this employee complaints program for several years.
(voice-over): The independent former judge who runs the unit refused to comment to CNN.
Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak was one of those who pressured BP.
(on camera): They entire reason that office came to fruition was because of safety.
REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: It was because of safety, yes. And safety concerns continue yet today.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Since the ombudsman office opened, 112 BP workers have come forward to file reports; 35 of them deal with, quote, "system integrity or safety issues". And the ombudsman office says they are extremely serious.
But, "Keeping Them Honest", sources close to the ombudsman office tells CNN, BP doesn't like it and its independent investigators, and that it doesn't like employees reporting safety problems outside the company. A union representative says some BP workers who complained have faced retaliation.
Jeanne Pascal agrees.
PASCAL: Many of the employees who have actually reported safety, health, environmental and safety issues, particularly in Alaska, have been retaliated against. They have been demoted, they have been terminated and they have also been blackballed.
GRIFFIN: A BP spokesman tells CNN the company has, quote, a "zero tolerance" policy regarding retaliation. The company, he says, is unaware of any unresolved cases that violate the policy.
And there's this: not long after he took over as chairman of BP America, Lamar McKay met with Congressman Stupak.
STUPAK: One of the first things Mr. McKay said was, I'm going to replace the ombudsman. I want to shut her down. And we asked, what do you mean? I mean, he wasn't even on the job, but a few weeks and maybe a month or two, and start wanting to shut down the ombudsman. We have encouraged him not to do so.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Doesn't it stun you that that he would make that remark?
STUPAK: Yes, it did. We were shocked that he would even bring it up in the first meeting, and then in the second meeting we had with them. The logic was, well, we'll make things better. Well, we don't see --
GRIFFIN: Their logic was "Trust us"?
STUPAK: Trust us.
GRIFFIN: You don't?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): BP has said it can do a good job investigating complaints through an established internal system without the ombudsman's office.
PASCAL: I think at some point a reasonable person has to come to the conclusion that this is a company that has no intention of changing its mode of operation, that the dollar is going to be paramount, and that the health, safety -- and safety of American workers and the American environment are a secondary or tertiary concern.
GRIFFIN: Before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP promised Stupak in writing that its watchdog unit would be in place for at least another year. But a source inside the ombudsman's office tells CNN, "Frankly, I'm surprised we're still here."
Drew Griffin, CNN, Seattle.
COOPER: Up next: Does this look like a ballet at sea, mesmerizing as any performance at a concert hall? Well, that's how one of BP's so- called reporters described the cleanup effort in the Gulf. What is going on? Why did they have so-called reporters down here? We're "Keeping Them Honest."
Plus, singer Jimmy Buffett angry over the spill: my interview with the superstar on the beach at Gulf Shores, Alabama. Why he says this area will bounce back and how he's trying to help.
COOPER: For weeks, we have requested to speak on camera to someone from BP, frankly, anyone. And we'll continue to ask them to appear on the program.
BP it seems, will not talk to us, but has no problem getting its message out. The company is spending $50 million on a PR campaign, which is, of course, their right. But what we uncovered was that BP is using employees also as "reporters" -- quote, unquote -- "reporters" who may be spinning the truth.
Here is Randi Kaye.
KAYE (voice-over): As the managing editor of the "Lafourche Gazette" newspaper in Larose, Louisiana, Vicki Chaisson knows a thing or two about journalism.
So, when a BP employee showed up unannounced to interview her on May 21 at her office, she realized right away, she says, he had an agenda.
VICKI CHAISSON, MANAGING EDITOR, "LAFOURCHE GAZETTE": I think what he did was try to come in here and get something positive.
KAYE (on camera): What kinds of questions did he ask you?
CHAISSON: What he wanted to know was how people's reaction was to BP. In other words, I got the impression he wanted to know if everybody thought BP was the bad guy.
KAYE (voice-over): Her answer at the time was that people were looking for someone to blame and BP was it, hardly a blistering critique.
Days later, her interview was posted here on BP's Web site, among their "Blogs from the Gulf" in the BP newsletter.
(on camera): It turns out BP has dispatched two employees to the Gulf who call themselves, according to their blogs, BP reporters. But their reporting looks nothing like our reporting or the rest of the media's reporting. It's far more positive.
(voice-over): Check out this blog by BP reporter Tom Seslar, the same guy who interviewed Vicki Chaisson. Here, he interviewed a family in the seafood business, who says -- quote -- "There is no reason to hate BP," and "The oil spill was an accident," this from folks in the seafood business, which has been destroyed by the BP spill.
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There isn't one person in America who is going to be fooled by this propaganda campaign. The reporting has been so positive, that you would think that they were on BP's payroll. Oh, that's right -- they are on BP's payroll. Maybe that explains it.
KAYE: But wait; there's more. A blog from May 28 by another BP reporter about the cleanup efforts on the water describes it as -- quote -- "A ballet at sea, as mesmerizing as any performance in a concert hall and worthy of an audience in its own right."
And, with tourism in trouble, how's this? A May 24th blog: "Much of the region's other businesses, particularly the hotels, have been prospering, because so many people have come here from BP and other oil emergency response teams."
Wait. So, BP is helping tourism?
CHAISSON: He's not over here to publish the negative stuff. He wants the positive stuff. And there's not a whole lot that's positive. If he would come in today and do the interview, ooh, I don't know that he would want to publish it.
KAYE: "Keeping Them Honest", we asked BP about these so-called reporters. A spokesman told us -- quote -- "These articles are intended to provide our readers with coverage about our response efforts."
BP says it's offering stories about the response -- quote -- "That are generally not covered by mainstream media, by major cable networks, or by CNN."
BP also says -- quote -- "Many of our employees are putting their hearts and souls into this response. Telling these stories is one way we are recognizing their efforts."
CHAISSON: You know, there's just been so much printed and so much that's come to light since then that no one is trusting whatever BP says at this point. No one is.
KAYE (on camera): Especially not Vicki Chaisson anymore, who, 10 days after her interview with BP, wrote a negative editorial about the company. Comments like those, she believes, would have been edited out by the BP reporter who interviewed her.
Randi Kaye, CNN, New Orleans.
COOPER: BP with its own reporters.
I spoke about it earlier with James Carville and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
COOPER: So, BP is sending their own -- own employees out, their own -- quote, unquote -- "reporters" to kind of -- to blog and explain the situation as they see.
One of their reporters described the cleanup effort that they witnessed on the water as -- quote -- "A ballet at sea, as mesmerizing as any performance in a concert hall, and worthy of an audience in its own right."
It's certainly not exactly hard-hitting.
BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: I don't know where they were. They might have been in downtown New York, but they wasn't at Pass a Loutre, Bay Jimmy, or Barataria Bay, Cat Island.
We are still getting killed by the oil out there.
COOPER: For 70-some odd days now, I have been kind of, I guess, complaining or pointing out the lack of transparency that BP has, even though they had promised transparency.
It doesn't seem like -- I mean, that still seems a major issue that no one else seems to be as concerned about as we have talked about.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But -- but -- but they can't be, because they have an obligation to their shareholders, just like they can't be transparent about the flow.
We discussed this last night. When the guy says, well, we don't -- it's irrelevant to us what the flow is, you have to pay probably, maybe $4,000 a barrel for the flow. And so they're -- you can't -- you can't believe anything that they say, because they have an obligation to their shareholders.
COOPER: But isn't their obligation to their shareholders to be transparent, to let their shareholders know what is going on, just as they should let everybody else know what is going on?
CARVILLE: I think -- I'm afraid if their shareholders -- I don't -- I think this thing -- like I said, my own view -- and I hope I'm wrong -- but has been from the get-go, this is a catastrophe of the first magnitude.
And, in that war room, in that place in Houston, the night that -- on April 20th, they thought this thing was 100,000 barrels a day. I still believe that's going to be the case. I think that's how much oil is coming out the Gulf --
NUNGESSER: You know, instead of hiring PR people to talk about ballets --
COOPER: Right. NUNGESSER: -- on the water, if we just do the right thing, sit down and deploy every piece of equipment, there's something to hang your hat on.
Look -- look in the camera and say, we're doing everything feasibly possible to save coastal Louisiana, to contain this oil, to pick it up, to make this wrong right. There's your PR; but don't just say it. Go out there and do it and the PR will take care of itself.
CARVILLE: And we have got to remember, too, is, there are people who are literally working 100 hours a week here. And they're working hard, I mean, people in the Coast Guard, people -- I suspect that even -- but to make all of this bunk, and they just lose anything that they could have. And I'm sure that they --
COOPER: Well, I think -- I mean, frankly, I think that BP management has done a poor job of representing their own employees, because I have no doubt their own employees are working around the clock. I have no doubt the engineers --
COOPER: -- the people working those --
COOPER: -- submersible vehicles are working round the clock, not eating well. I mean, I have no doubt that their lives have been destroyed --
COOPER: -- and they are trying everything they can.
But that story is not getting out --
CARVILLE: I know but --
COOPER: -- because they don't want -- they're not allowing anybody to see it.
CARVILLE: But they -- but they put this bunk out, instead of like these guys that are drilling this relief well. Obviously, if they're closer than we thought -- these guys are working hard. They're away from their families.
And you're exactly right. And the management, by sending this guy talking about some symphony on the water and a thing to behold or something like that, if he would have like profiled people or talk about, you know, what it's like for these --
COOPER: Yes, or actually even let other real reporters out to see it, you know, and to talk to these people freely to see who is controlling the remote-controlled vehicles -- (CROSSTALK)
COOPER: -- to even narrate during these operations what is actually going on. That, to me, I find stunning, the fact that they will not even narrate, like NASA does during a space launch, what is actually happening underwater.
CARVILLE: The reason that they don't let you out there is one word and it's not plastic. It's lawyers. They do not move unless some lawyer in Houston or Washington or London tells them what to do. And that lawyer is saying the last thing that you're going to do is have Anderson Cooper anywhere around anybody or anything to do with BP, because they will have all that taped. It will come into court.
And you -- just like when Tony Hayward went before the Congress to testify. He was so lawyered up. He was so shot up with tranquilizers or God knows whatnot, told not to say anything --
CARVILLE: Whatever they put in him. The poor man couldn't -- he couldn't -- he couldn't have a thought. And that's the nature of what happened here. They're so lawyered up, they can't see straight.
COOPER: James Carville, Billy Nungesser, thanks.
COOPER: Next: up close with one oysterman. He's back on the water, but afraid about what he may find.
We will also bring you our interview with Jimmy Buffett, music superstar whose Margaritaville mentality was formed growing up right here on the Gulf Coast.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: You were saying this is the beach where you spent your misguided youth.
JIMMY BUFFETT, MUSICIAN: Yes.
COOPER: What's it like seeing tar balls? I think these are tar balls.
BUFFETT: It's depressing as hell.
COOPER: Have you ever seen tar balls like this on the beach?
BUFFETT: Yes. You know, it reminds me of the old days when tankers would come by and discharge their bilges. You'd see this kind of stuff, but not to this degree, you know.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Randi Kaye in New Orleans. Anderson goes one on one with Jimmy Buffett in just a minute.
But first some of the other important headlines in the news tonight.
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is in trouble again. Leading conservatives are calling for his resignation after Steele characterized the war in Afghanistan as, quote, "Obama's war" and suggested it is unwinnable. The RNC is defending Steele's statements, saying the chairman clearly supports our troops but believes success in Afghanistan requires, quote, "the ongoing support of the American people".
The new unemployment report shows the country lost 125,000 jobs last month with the jobless rate dipping slightly to 9.5 percent. Unfortunately, the decline came as more Americans just stopped looking for work.
And Paris Hilton was arrested in South Africa today. Hilton and another woman were detained on suspicion of marijuana possession after attending a World Cup match. Charges against Hilton were ultimately dropped, though her friend pleaded guilty and now faces a fine.
Stay with us for more with AC 360 from the Gulf, straight ahead.
COOPER: Jimmy Buffett was supposed to perform this week along the Alabama coast at a concert meant to bring back tourists to the beaches here. It was a free benefit concert.
Hurricane Alex ruined that plan. The show was postponed until July 11th. But that didn't keep Buffett away. He didn't want to disappoint his fans. He performed two nights ago at a free concert in Gulf Shores. A couple of thousand people showed up at his sister's restaurant.
We found this video on YouTube.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Buffett grew up here. The Gulf is in his blood, and the oil in the water cuts close to his heart. I talked to him about it. Here is my exclusive interview with Jimmy Buffett.
COOPER: You were saying this is the beach where you spent your misspent youth.
COOPER: What's it like seeing tar balls? I think these are tar balls BUFFETT: It's depressing as hell, you know? I mean -- yes. I mean, it's -- you know, my first thought is, you know, I -- my scientist guys tell me it's the dispersants that are the problems. You know? I've got, you know, people that I deal with over in Mississippi and down in Florida say it's better for it to come on the beach. Then you can clean it up.
But the dispersants, they -- nobody knows the long-range impact of that, what it's going to do to the food source and the bird life here. That's the big question. And nobody has the answer to that. But seeing it on the beach, you just go, God, you know.
COOPER: Have you ever seen tar balls like this on the beach?
BUFFETT: Yes. You know, it reminds me of the old days when tankers would come by and discharge their bilges. You'd see this kind of stuff, you know, but not to this degree. You know?
And then you look out there, and then the ocean looks pretty clean. But you know, it's just -- yes, it is depressing to see this. But I try not to be there, and I try to go -- you know, who's going to clean this up and how is it going to -- now that it's here, where does it go, you know?
And then you start asking those questions and how can I help there? Who's doing it and what can I do to help them?
COOPER: When you first heard about the disaster, did you think it would last this long?
BUFFETT: I knew -- you know what? I just thought, you know -- I've been in show business a long time, and I know liars when I hear them, you know. And I -- you know, that thing couldn't have blown up without -- I thought they were lying in the beginning. That was just me personally.
COOPER: When you heard 1,000 barrels --
BUFFETT: Total lie. That's what I thought.
BUFFETT: You know, I thought it's like body counts in Iraq or anything else. Everybody is going to underestimate what's going on. And that was my main concern.
And then when you started getting into the fact, and I was talking to people, you know, you started seeing that this was something, you know. It kind of like reminds me of the shuttle thing. There was a lot going wrong before this happened. And that -- you know -- it's a simple, frustrating question, why? That people, if you're going to go do this -- and you're asking about deepwater drilling.
Somebody, and I'm sure you've seen it, there's a graph that shows world consumption of oil, American consumption of oil, what we produce and what actually comes out of deepwater drilling, and it's little. Little, little amount.
So, it begs the question -- hopefully, you know, on the other side of this, maybe finally people realize we've got to do something, though it may be a generational thing to find other sources of energy. And they're out there. You know, whether oil companies are going to go get them, that's the big question.
COOPER: Who do you get angry at?
BUFFETT: You get angry at -- you get angry at people that -- I think, people in the extraction business is the logical place for anger to go. Because if they really had the -- if they really had the interests of the Gulf of Mexico and all of its entities at heart, they would have done a better job in the beginning. And I think all the evidence, in my humble opinion -- I'm no expert on it -- kind of leads to the fact that they didn't do that, and that's what angers me.
COOPER: Back to what's happening here, what do you make of the cleanup by BP?
BUFFETT: I don't know. I mean, I'm no expert on this, but I think that what I'm -- I think you've got to compare it to like -- what I heard that made the most sense to me was people that dealt with the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, and what were the repercussions and how far after that did they actually keep the process in place? And I think that's -- I think you've got to keep their feet to the fire. I think that --
COOPER: You're worried that -- that long-term they're not going to be here?
BUFFETT: I don't know if they can get out of this one.
COOPER: If you were to be singing a song about what's happening here now or about what you want people to be thinking about what's going on, what would you sing?
BUFFETT: Well, I just say that when I wrote "Margaritaville," all those tourists covered in oil, this is not what I had in mind. No.
COOPER: You were talking about suntan oil?
BUFFETT: Yes. And I'd like for it to get back to the only oil on the beaches is suntan oil, you know.
I hadn't thought about it. I mean, I've been -- I've been thinking about what to do. What I've been doing is kind of putting a little -- as people go to my shows know, whether it's this or something after this, if there's something out there, I like the old Jonathan Swift satirical pen. I can interject into my songs little quirks. And people pick up on what I'm talking about, you know.
I mean, I can't say it on TV, but there's one I'm doing now. You know, what's it, ten years after the millennium, and the end may be coming soon. We should be living like "The Jetsons" but we're being screwed by oil tycoons. So you know, they get it. And there's a large applause when that line goes out.
COOPER: Did you clean up the language?
BUFFETT: I paraphrased that.
COOPER: OK. I sensed that.
BUFFETT: But if you want to hear it, you can go on Radio Margarita and hear the real thing. It emits emotion. It does. And you know, but it's in a -- it's in a context of fun, and that's what, you know, I've always done. It's fun but it's like, this is a Mardi Gras culture. And people are used to that. You know, I mean --
COOPER: And it's important for people -- and it's OK to have fun now.
COOPER: It's important to.
BUFFETT: And musicians and entertainers have long -- you know, that's -- the best thing they could do is come down and kind of give these people a little bit of relief from the hard job ahead.
COOPER: Up next, we'll take you back on the water for an up-close look with an oyster farmer, a man whose way of life may be forever changed by this spill.
Plus, a top New Orleans chef, Susan Spicer; she talks about why she is suing BP.
Later, turtles in trouble, how they are being treated and saved; we'll take you inside the Audubon Aquatic Center sea turtle rehabilitation program, coming up.
COOPER: Earlier this week, Louisiana reopened two oyster harvesting areas that were closed for the last couple of weeks because of the oil spill. We went out with one oyster farmer who's a third generation member of his family who has been working the waters in this area. We kind of expected to see a lot of oyster boats back out there already forming, forming up oyster beds. But they weren't, partly because many crews now work for BP but also because of concerns about what's in the water. Take a look.
COOPER (voice-over): In Empire, Louisiana, the oyster boats are idle. Mitch Jurisich last went out to farm oysters more than three weeks ago.
(on camera): How many oysters would you bring in on a normal day? MITCH JURISICH, OYSTER FARMER: A normal day, prior to the shutdown, I was averaging 150 sacks.
COOPER (voice-over): Though the state of Louisiana today reopened the waters here to shrimpers and oystermen, Mitch isn't going to farm oysters just yet. He's not convinced the oil isn't still here.
And besides, he doesn't have a crew anymore. They've all taken jobs with BP.
Every day he still goes out on the water.
JURISICH: And this is the first area where I spotted, you know, heavy oil.
COOPER: The heavy oil is gone for now. But he thinks there may still be oil and dispersants under the water. He uses long tongs to scrape a few oysters from their beds.
(voice-over): How do you tell if it's --
JURISICH: Well, besides -- well, the color of it, you know, the brown -- the brown-looking color. Everything looks good. But what lies inside, we don't know.
COOPER (on camera): That's the concern, what's inside?
JURISICH: That's the concern, what's inside. An oyster can ingest oil and still survive. You know, and the dispersants and all, we don't know anything about how they can survive dispersants and anything associated with that.
COOPER (voice-over): It takes three years for an oyster to mature to the correct size.
COOPER: And this is about a year old?
JURISICH: About a year old. These are about three -- three years old when you see them get to be the three- to four-inch size.
COOPER: May and September are the spawning months for oysters. Mitch worries this disaster could not only wipe out the current crop of oysters, but the next generation, as well.
JURISICH: We know oil will impact oysters if it gets on the oysters. But most of the time, oil would be on top of the water, and if it doesn't come in direct contact with the oysters, the oysters stand a good chance of survival.
But when it's dispersed in the way it's being dispersed, and it winds up throughout the water column where the oysters can ingest it, and that's the big question mark. Will it have an impact? Yes. To what extent? We don't know.
COOPER: In shallower water, Mitch has begun to find dead oysters.
JURISICH: This oyster is recently dead.
COOPER: An unusual sign he believes has something to do with the oil or the dispersants being used to combat it.
(on camera): Now, is that normal?
JURISICH: No, not for this time of year. No, this is not normal. You know, we have certain -- some mortalities that are normal, but we're finding more and more of this. Something is not right.
COOPER (voice-over): Back on shore, Mitch opens up some of the oysters he's harvested today. They're plump and fresh, and there's no sign of oil. They taste terrific.
If the storm passes and no new oil appears, he thinks he may start farming next week, but he's not overly optimistic. After farming these waters all his life, he's sure more oil is coming, and he's sure time is running out.
COOPER: The oystermen have been hurting. So have restaurants.
Several restaurant owners are suing BP, claiming the spill has hurt their business. Susan Spicer is one of them. She's a renowned chef here in New Orleans and around the country. I talked to her earlier.
COOPER: Susan, how are your restaurants and the seafood business in general being affected by this? Are prices going up? What's happening?
SUSAN SPICER, CHEF: Oh, yes. The supply is definitely diminishing. You know, the variety of what we can get is definitely diminished, and the prices are going up.
You know, we're still seeing great things like crawfish and beautiful, you know, jumbo lump crab meat, but of course, as you know, oysters are -- are pretty much not happening at all right now. And the -- the supply of fin fish is -- the variety is getting much less.
And, you know, I think we're worried more about the future. You know, right now things -- where everybody is kind of managing, but it's the uncertain future and the fact that the oil spill is ongoing and hasn't been stopped yet. That's what this lawsuit is all about.
COOPER: Why sue BP? I mean, why not just put in for claims?
SPICER: I think it's the big unknown factor. I'm not interested in -- you know, Bayona (ph) as a corporation, as a restaurant, is not in need of a hand-out today. It's more about taking a stand with a lot of the smaller restaurants and seafood-related businesses that are suffering now that are casualties now. And, you know, they're part of our way of life here in Louisiana. You know, all of these things are part of why we live here and what we love about living in the Gulf Coast region. And they're all being very dramatically affected now, but even more so -- you know, what's going to happen six months from now, a year from now, five years from now? We just really don't know. So --
COOPER: I don't -- I think unless you've been --
SPICER: I think it's important that BP be held accountable.
COOPER: You know, I want to talk a little bit about how important seafood is to the people and the culture of this region. I think New Orleans is one of the few cities where -- I mean, I've had people driving down the street roll down their window and yell out to me, ask me what I'm going to have for dinner tonight.
You know, food is incredibly important here. It really is a way of life here.
SPICER: It is. And I've been reading -- you know, it's funny. Because since this all kind of, you know, came up yesterday, the suit was filed on Friday. And, you know, I've read a few of the blogs online and some of the discussions that people have had.
And there's those people that go, "Oh, you know, what's the big deal? You know, we'll always -- we're great cooks here in Louisiana. We'll always be able to -- you know, we can cook pork and we can cook chicken."
But, you know, that just -- that's just not right. I mean, it isn't -- you know, when you've got one of the most famous restaurants, you know, in New Orleans and it's talking about having to charbroil mussels instead of oysters, you know, something just isn't right. When one of the oldest seafood, you know, one of the oldest oyster purveyors, you know, goes out of business after 137 years, somebody I've been buying seafood from for, you know, my 32 years of cooking in New Orleans, you know, that's just wrong. That's just wrong.
And you know, there's a lot of that that's going on. And all these little places, we lost so much after Katrina. And now it's just going to happen all over again. And it's just a big smack-down for all these small businesses. And --
SPICER: -- you know, it just makes me angry.
COOPER: Yes. We do want people to know that New Orleans is open for business. The restaurants are open.
COOPER: I'm not able to eat out very much because I'm working, but the few times I do, the food is as good as it's ever been. So Susan, I appreciate you being on with us. We'll continue to follow your suit against BP.
SPICER: Thank you very much.
COOPER: Thanks very much, Susan Spicer.
COOPER: Up next, saving the turtles. See what's being done to rescue these hard-shelled creatures of the Gulf; a lot more delicate than they look.
COOPER: On Tuesday, I visited the Audubon Aquatic Center's sea turtle rehabilitation program. It's got more than 100 sea turtles right now that have been rescued from the spill. Their lives are being saved, and it's people like Dr. Robert MacLean who are helping them. I talked to him while he gave a checkup to one of the turtles.
Take a look.
DR. ROBERT MACLEAN, AUDUBON AQUATIC CENTER: One of the most endangered turtles we have here. About two-thirds of our turtles we've gotten into the center have been Kemp's Ridley turtles.
COOPER: And this turtle was, what, covered in oil?
MACLEAN: Yes. It came in about 15 days ago. And normally when we get them, when they're covered with oil, they have oil all around their skin. They tend to wash them in the field a little bit for us. They're a little cleaner here. All in their inguinal area and everywhere is just covered in oil.
COOPER: Does the oil actually get underneath the shell?
MACLEAN: No, it doesn't get under the shell because the skin meets tightly here. But it's all in their mouth, in their nares, and down their esophagus so we know they've ingested the oil.
COOPER: What kind of effect does -- if a turtle has ingested oil, will that kill it?
MACLEAN: Well, we didn't know when we first got them. We still really don't know. But they seem to be doing very well. Most of them are responding quickly to fluid therapy. We're giving them antibiotics, vitamins, and we're feeding them mayonnaise to help move that oil.
MACLEAN: Yes, mayonnaise and oil mixture to help get the oil out of their system. COOPER: Who knew? What are you going to do now?
MACLEAN: This one just needs a quick recheck. We're going to weigh it, check its ID. It has a fit (ph) tag microchip in it. And it's due for an antibiotic shot.
And they do get a little more active when you handle them, you can see. So Michele, we have 1.8 kilograms, and that's what this one has been, which is good. So we're just going to -- I'm going to pull up some antibiotics.
COOPER: And the antibiotic is for what?
MACLEAN: It's basically to cover what we're worried about the oil causing some GI damage. We're covering for that. That's gastrointestinal injury. But also we don't know if they've inhaled any of the oil. They might have lung damage. It's just basically prophylactics, trying to cover them. And they get this about once every three days.
COOPER: Do you think this turtle, though, will make it?
MACLEAN: Yes. This one has been doing quite well. Most of them, like I said, seem to respond very well to basic supportive care that we're giving them and seem to be behaving, eating and defecating like normal turtles.
COOPER: If you'd like to make a donation to help save the sea turtles, go to www.AudubonInstitute.org. That's where you can also learn more about the oil spill and its effects on wildlife here in the Gulf.
Thanks very much for watching. Have a great holiday weekend.
I'm Anderson Cooper. Good night.