Tavis: It is hard to believe that the Gulf oil spill is now entering its third month, and nowhere is that fact more sobering than in the communities along the Gulf region. Tony Kennon is the mayor of one of those communities – Orange Beach, Alabama. He joins us tonight from Pensacola. Mayor Kennon, good to have you on this program, sir.
Mayor Tony Kennon: Thank you, Tavis; it’s a great joy to be here. I appreciate it very much.
Tavis: I’m delighted to have you. Let me start with the news of this moratorium. As we all know, there was put in place a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling. A federal judge has overturned that moratorium. The White House says it is going to fight that and re-file. Your thoughts about this decision.
Kennon: I wish I knew more about the moratorium. If knew the moratorium had specifics that included safety checks and had specific details of what they wanted to accomplish with it, and that after each well went through a safety check and was deemed safe it was going to come back online and we were going to make sure that we had systems in place to deal with this incident like we have a 5,000 feet, which obviously they didn’t have before, I would be okay with a moratorium.
But if it’s a moratorium for political reasons and no specific details, then absolutely not – I’m against that.
Tavis: How do you explain to the American people who are trying to figure out how it is that those persons like yourself and your residents and your citizens who live on the Gulf Coast could be so upset about this oil spill, so upset about BP, and yet there is this sense that many of us have that those of you who live on the Gulf Coast are not altogether opposed to oil drilling – you’re upset about this but you don’t want to end oil drilling. How do you explain that to the American people?
Kennon: Hey, life’s about lesser of evils. That’s just the bottom line, and unless we want $8 to $10 a gallon fuel, we’ve got to drill for oil. I don’t like deepwater drilling. I think it’s high-risk. I think that BP absolutely, from what little I have, was out of line, skipped the sidelined safety checks. There’s just things – it’s probably criminal.
But at the same time I understand that the science, in my opinion, is not there yet for the alternative energy forms so there’s got to be a parallel track. It doesn’t have to be one extreme or the other. How do we work together to achieve minimizing our dependence on foreign oil and still using petroleum products as we need them to maintain our standard of living, but at the same time we have to move forward with alternative forms?
I just don’t know that we’ve really sat down. My gosh, we came up with the atom bomb in World War II in a matter of months, we ought to be able to come up with a plan that makes sense going long-term.
Tavis: Your point of a moment ago notwithstanding, that what BP did or did not do, put another way, may very well have been criminal, that point notwithstanding, has your feeling about BP changed over these three months? They have set aside this $20 billion now; they met with the president in the White House. Have your feelings about the company changed at all?
Kennon: No, sir, not in the least. The people on the ground that I deal with are good people, but you know what? They’re just like me – we’re small people. The hierarchy of that London-based company is arrogant; it’s based around an elitist mentality. We’ve experienced that firsthand when they came to our town and essentially tried to kick us to the sideline and tell us to get out of the way, the big boys are here.
So knowing that they’ve not been truthful about how much oil was leaking from day one absolutely shows they have no credibility. There’s no way I’ll believe anything they say. Their inability to put a claims process in place that pays in a timely fashion shows me that they do not care about us. It’s a deflect, delay, confuse strategy, so no, sir, I have no respect for BP, I have no respect for their leadership and I hope that they get what’s coming to them.
Tavis: To your critique, Mayor Kennon, of the claims process, and you know it better than I do, but there are many Americans, millions, in fact, just like me who read their local papers every day, read the national papers, and BP is running this massive advertising campaign, I might add, featuring an African American – you know who I’m talking about.
You’ve seen the ads, saying that he volunteered for the job, he’s in charge of the claims process, he’s born and raised and lives on the Gulf Coast, he’s going to stay there and get this right, he cares about this, he’s a local, hometown boy just like you are. So when you say you have problems with their claims process, I’m trying to get you to juxtapose what we’re reading every day about how aggressive they’re being on claims but you’re telling me how disappointed you are in how the processes is working or not working.
Kennon: Well, give me $50 million and I’ll guarantee you I can make their PR spin go away. Mr. Willis, who’s on that commercial, I have no respect for him. I’ve been in face-to-face meetings with him. He did not follow up on promises; he didn’t follow up on phone calls.
The numbers they throw out are very deceptive. They’ve made lots of small claims – $2,300, I think, is the average pay claim in our area. That’s nothing. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. We’re a $2.3 billion industry. They’ve only paid out, from what I understand, a little over $100 million on the entire Gulf Coast. That’s less than one-tenth of 1 percent of what the economic impact is.
So they throw these numbers off, they’re disingenuous, they’re callous, they’re calculating, they understand and know that our people are losing their homes, their businesses.
One of my good buddies, Allen Kruse, the Rookie, charter boat captain, took his own life last night. Makes me so mad I don’t know what to do. He was hopeless, he felt helpless, he had no faith that BP nor our federal government was there for him. He was in dire straits and because of a selfish, greedy corporate entity and an impotent government that is calloused and calculating, his life’s gone. That just makes me spitting mad, I’ll be honest with you.
Tavis: I can see it coming through the screen here, and I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose a friend who felt so hopeless and helpless in this situation. Is it your sense that more and more persons, maybe not to the point of committing suicide – I certainly hope not – but is it your sense that people are feeling more hopeless and more helpless rather than feeling like the cavalry is on the way?
Kennon: Every day. Every day they’re in my office. We left a community meeting – I have a community meeting every Wednesday at 12:00. They met me at the door. “Tony, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t make it. I have nothing. I can’t buy groceries. I can’t get my claim taken care of. I can’t get them to return my phone call. I can’t get them to answer my questions.”
I hear it over and over and over. And then I see Mr. Willis on television going through this PR spin, it just – it ain’t that way, guys. That’s not the truth. That’s not the facts.
Tavis: You don’t like Tony Haywood, the head of BP; you don’t like Mr. Willis featured in these commercials. What do you think of President Barack Obama?
Kennon: I’m disappointed in our president. I was praying that on Tuesday night, last Tuesday night, when he came on camera he would – he had fire in his eye and he’d show a grit and determination that he was going to attack this problem offshore, that we would never see another drop of oil on our beaches or in our marshes if he could do – if it happened, it would not be because of a lack of effort.
I just didn’t feel like he was engaged, Tavis. Maybe I’m wrong. I was hoping he would right then and there say as an example of his commitment, “We’re waiving the Jones Act. I’m asking every vessel from the four corners of the Earth to come to the Gulf of Mexico and help us. It may not make a difference, but I want you there.”
There’s no such thing as overkill in this situation. That’s what I wanted to hear, and I didn’t hear it. Then I heard him go into the clean energy bill. I’ve got no problem with debating a clean energy bill, but he had more energy, more enthusiasm about that part of his speech as he did the front side, where we need the help and the compassion.
That makes us feel like we’re being used as a pawn in a political game, and that’s not right, Tavis. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be in America.
Tavis: Now we’re starting to hear people raise concerns about what happens to humans who are exposed to this kind of oil for too long. So now we have health concerns. Beyond the economic concerns there are now health concerns for us to consider as well, yes?
Kennon: Yes. Absolutely. It scares us to death because I think history will show (unintelligible) things. When this onion is peeled back there’s going to be so much revealed that none of us have any idea, because something’s going on I can’t put my finger on, but something’s not right.
But the dispersants will end up being the destructive force, more so than the oil, in my opinion. We have no idea what it’s going to do to our ecosystem, our water table. I’m scared to death for the guys working on the water. I really don’t know what to expect for them, but I don’t know what the alternative is either. We’re in an absolutely no-win situation all the way around for everyone.
Tavis: I got 20 seconds to go here. I hate to see you so pained and so anguished. Is there anything at all, anything at all, about which you have hope tonight?
Kennon: Tavis, there’s no doubt we’re going through this for a reason. The good Lord’s been good to me. I absolutely have faith that we’re going to come out of this better for it. I believe that with all my heart, because if I didn’t have that to hang my hat on I’d have no hope whatsoever. So I believe it’s going to be good.
Tavis: All right. Tony Kennon is the mayor of Orange Beach, Alabama. Mayor, good to have you on the program. Thanks for taking the time to share your insights, I appreciate it.
Kennon: Thank you, Tavis.
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