JUDY WOODRUFF: The Gulf of Mexico oil spill fouled more miles of coastline today, as BP pledged to pay damage claims faster. At the same time, the president and Congress again stepped up pressure on the oil company.
On day 52, the oil kept on flowing, and so did the complaints.
BILLY NUNGESSER, president, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana: I have spent more time fighting the officials of BP and the Coast Guard than fighting the oil.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, testified at a Senate hearing in Washington. He said BP executives didn’t know just how bad things are.
BILLY NUNGESSER: There may have been a start when the — when the new guy in charge, Bob, came down and we took his hand and stuck it in the oil, and he felt it, and asked him, what do you think that feels like on the back of a pelican?
He seemed to get it. And that was just the other day. Maybe we will see some changes. But, until you see and go out there, and see what it’s doing, it scares the hell out of you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In its now daily update, BP said the containment system on the damaged wellhead collected around 660,000 gallons of oil on Wednesday. That’s up slightly from the day before.
But it remained unclear what the well’s total flow is. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen spoke in Washington.
ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, U.S. Coast Guard commandant: As you might — might imagine, it’s really complicated. We divided several teams up to take a look at this from different angles — literally different angles.
The two basic things we’re trying to do are reconcile two views of how the — how the oil might be determined. One of them is overhead use of satellite imagery and sensors from NASA aircraft.
The other team is actually looking at the — at the oil coming up from the riser pipe and the leaks before themselves. And two different ways to look at that — one of them is actually to analyze the — the video itself and make some assumptions about what’s in that stream. And there’s oil, natural gas, water and sediment.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the meantime, BP detailed new plans to bring in a tanker that would help transport the rapidly accumulating oil, plus an incinerator to burn off some of the crude.
But some Gulf Coast communities made clear they’re taking matters into their own hands.
Fairhope, Alabama’s city council is spending $650,000 on booms, rather than wait for help from BP or the government.
TRIP PITTMAN, R-Ala., state senator: I have been in meetings with BP officials that have made commitments, and — and they were open-ended commitments. They weren’t pushed upon them. They made them freely. And those commitments have not been lived up to.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There were also attempts to address the complaints of damage claims stuck in limbo. National Guardsmen in Alabama helped fishermen, property owners, and businessmen file paperwork, which many say is excessive and putting them on the brink of bankruptcy.
Tracy Wareing, a government point person on the claims process, said BP has now promised to expedite payments.
TRACY WAREING, National Incident Command: BP recognized that their previous approach of waiting until basically after the books have closed for each month to calculate losses will not work. It won’t get dollars out quickly enough for the businesses that are struggling on the ground. And they have indicated that they will implement and are implementing a more expedited claims process for these larger-loss business claims.
JUDY WOODRUFF: BP also faced mounting pressure from investors. Its stock plunged 11 percent in London trading today, before ending with a loss of 7 percent. The company’s shares rallied in New York, after yesterday’s 16 percent loss. Since the spill began, BP has lost half its total worth.
Back in Washington, the political pressure kept building. After a White House meeting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted BP will pay everything it owes.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., speaker of the House: BP must be held accountable. They must be held accountable — accountable in terms of the taxpayer. There are expenses that we are incurring as a government that they must pick up.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The House also voted today to eliminate the $100 million limit on how much the Coast Guard can spend on cleanup costs. The disaster began in April, when the offshore rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank.
Today, President Obama met with relatives of the 11 workers killed.
SHEILA CLARK, widow of rig explosion victim: I think we all walked away from our meeting with the president feeling very confident that everything is — that everything that he can do, he will do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Obama also turned again to what to do about energy in the long term.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have to move on an energy agenda that is forward-looking, that creates jobs, that assures that we are leaders in solar and wind and biodiesel, that recognizes that we are going to be reliant on fossil fuels for many years to come, that we are going to still be using oil and we are still going to be using other fossil fuels, but that we have to start planning now and putting the infrastructure in place now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Later, the president met with business leaders to discuss energy reforms.
Late today, a government task force estimated the well’s total flow may have reached 2.1 million gallons a day, before the capping operation began. Earlier estimates were substantially lower. There is no estimate yet on the flow since the capping began, but it could be higher still.