JIM LEHRER: But, first, our look at the impact of the oil spill on the Gulf waters and on BP.
“NewsHour” correspondent Spencer Michels begins with a report from the Louisiana coast.
SPENCER MICHELS: A diamond-tipped saw blade started the first of two major cuts today on the pipe that’s been spewing oil for 43 days. And, late this morning, a giant plume began gushing from disabled blowout preventer, where robot craft have been doing the cutting.
The intricate operation was performed a mile down by remote control. It was part of the latest effort by BP to stem the gusher that’s blown at least 20 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, and possibly more than 40 million.
The next move will be to lower a tight-fitting cap called the lower marine riser package, and then begin siphoning the oil to the surface.
BP’s operation chief, Doug Suttles:
DOUG SUTTLES, COO, Global Exploration, BP: Well, I think, if all goes according to plan, within about 24 hours, we could have this contained. But you — you know, you’ve got to remember, this is being done in 5,000 feet of water, and very small issues take a long time to fix. So, we — and we have seen that all along.
So, I think, over the next 24 to 48 hours, we should have this system operating and we should have very little oil being spilled to the sea. But we — we can’t guarantee success, because, once again, doing this without human beings on the seabed is extraordinarily difficult.
SPENCER MICHELS: Suttles said there were yet more contingency plans in place if this attempt also fails.
The incident commander, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, briefed reporters separately, as the Obama administration moved to distance itself from the oil company.
ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, U.S. Coast Guard commandant: While we’re frustrated and we’re angry, we have got to keep our heads in the game. We have got to keep our shoulder to the wheel, if you will, and the American public has got to understand that we have got to bring this thing through. We have got to contain this well. And we have got to work through the relief well as we move into August.
SPENCER MICHELS: Earlier, in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama formally introduced the two chairmen of a new investigative board. Former Florida Senator Bob Graham and Former EPA Chief William Reilly will head the panel.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m directing them to report back in six months with options for how we can prevent and mitigate the impact of any future spills that result from offshore drilling.
SPENCER MICHELS: The president also discussed a separate investigation of possible criminal liability. To that end, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was on the Gulf Coast today meeting with his state counterparts.
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. attorney general: We have already instructed all relevant parties to preserve any documents that may shed light on the facts surrounding this disaster. As our review expands in the days ahead, we will be meticulous, we will be comprehensive, and we will be aggressive.
SPENCER MICHELS: In towns all along the Gulf Coast, even where the oil hasn’t come ashore yet, people have been following raptly the news of the oil spill. This is the town of Jean Lafitte, named after the pirate Jean Lafitte who helped Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812.
In this town, some people are angry. Some people are just resigned. But they’re all deeply worried about their futures. While the federal government has closed off more water to fishing, some areas like Bayou Barataria remain open. On this humid morning, members of the Smith family were after bream, a perch-like fish, well aware that even these waters could close soon.
MAN: Some of the politicians and the spokesmen are kind of pointing fingers at each other and so forth.
MAN: That’s not going to get the problem solved, pointing fingers.
MAN: Stop pointing the fingers at everyone.
MAN: We need to come together and get a solution.
MAN: Get to the big table and come to a solution and get this thing wrapped up.
SPENCER MICHELS: For 34 years, Joe Bourgeois has been running Joe’s Landing, a store and dock that is usually teeming with commercial and sports fishermen this time of year. But, these days, it’s practically deserted.
Despite it all, Bourgeois manages to keep up a sense of humor and a sense of understanding.
JOE BOURGEOIS, Louisiana: What do you think about the way BP, the government, the other companies, the state, they have been handling this?
JOE BOURGEOIS: I think they’re doing the — the best job as they can.
SPENCER MICHELS: But you have had some people…
JOE BOURGEOIS: I wish they could do a quicker job.
SPENCER MICHELS: With the official start of hurricane season today, Bourgeois can see even more trouble ahead.
JOE BOURGEOIS: We’re just hoping that they don’t have no tidal surge and bring this sludge in — in our bathtubs. That’s what we’re worried about.
SPENCER MICHELS: Louisiana, with its countless waterways and its swamps, is home to a unique way of life that residents here from city hall to the bayous are questioning whether they can afford to wait for things to get back to normal, if they ever do.
The corporate costs are also climbing. BP said today it has now spent over $1 billion, and its stock value was hammered again today across markets here and in Europe. BP’s shares have now lost a third of their value since the spill began.