Revisiting The Gulf, Obama Not Yet Optimistic

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Obama returned to the Gulf Coast Friday for the third time since a deepwater drilling rig exploded more than six weeks ago. He warned BP not to "nickel and dime" the people who have been hurt by the oil spill.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

BP has had some success vacuuming up oil from its ruptured well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, but President Obama says it's way too early to be optimistic. Mr. Obama returned to the Gulf Coast yesterday for the third time since a deepwater drilling rig exploded more than six weeks ago.

He warned BP not to, quote, "nickel and dime" the people who've been hurt by the oil spill. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: The table in front of President Obama was piled high with boiled shrimp and bright red crawfish - but this was no picnic. Mr. Obama had returned to Grand Isle, Louisiana to meet with fishermen and coastal business owners whose livelihoods are threatened by the BP spill.

Encroaching oil has closed the oyster beds that Floyd Lusain(ph) maintains. Lusain doesn't know where his next catch is going to come from.

Mr. FLOYD LUSAIN (Fisherman): I'm a fourth generation and I got a son that's a fifth generation. (Unintelligible) for 100 years.

HORSLEY: David Camardelle is the mayor of Grand Isle. His brother owns the bait shop where this meeting was held. The mayor warned that unless cleanup crews are able to keep the oil from seeping deeper into the area's estuaries, the region's $2 billion fishery could be in jeopardy.

Mayor DAVID CAMARDELLE (Grand Isle, Louisiana): The biggest shrimp dock in America is right here in Grand Isle, and he's completely shut down. Close to 100 boats are just(ph) tied up. You have the Vietnamese families, you've got the true Cajun people here, and they're just sitting on the deck of the boat.

HORSLEY: The president listened as Camardelle outlined a plan to sink barges off the coast, anchoring rock dikes to catch the approaching oil before it can reach the sensitive wetlands. Mr. Obama was accompanied by Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is in charge of the federal response. He also brought along his political, David Axelrod, in a sign that his own fortunes were also on the line.

A crowd of well wishers cheered when the president's motorcade arrived in town, but John Young, who chairs the Jefferson Parish Council, says this area needs more than just a presidential pep talk.

Mr. JOHN YOUNG (Jefferson Parish Council): I was out yesterday on East Grand Terre Island and, you know, we have dead pelicans, birds soaked with oil, and they still haven't plugged the hole. So we're counting days now, and we're on 46. I'm happy that he's here. I respect him, I respect the office. but we need some action, not just words.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama didn't mince words, saying the oil spill will be bad no matter what the government does. But he said a coordinated response could help.

President BARACK OBAMA: You know, there's oil washing in but people can help each other, and the company that's responsible can make sure that it's responding quickly and effectively.

HORSLEY: Some residents complained BP has been anything but quick in processing claims after writing an initial round of checks. Mr. Obama warned the company it has legal and moral obligations in the region, especially since, he said, it's spending tens of millions of dollars on TV ads to repair its image and might pay more than $10 billion this year in dividends to its shareholders.

Some financial analysts say BP is likely to cut its dividend over the spill, but the company itself has been noncommittal. Shrimp fisherman Terry Vegas told the president he's not bitter at the oil companies - just those that cut corners and caused all this havoc.

Mr. TERRY VEGAS (Shrimp Fisherman): We thrive on the oil companies down here. And we enjoyed the business. We support them.

President OBAMA: Well, I think the point with the oil companies is, they've got to support you the same way you support them.

HORSLEY: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has warned the president's six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling will cost more jobs that his state can ill afford to lose now. Mr. Obama said yesterday he's unwilling to resume drilling in deep water before a safety review is completely, but he has urged his safety investigators to work as quickly as possible.

President OBAMA: We're still going to need oil production, but we've got to make sure that we do it in the right way.

HORSLEY: The oil spill continues to sap attention from other issues on the president's agenda, and this week it forced him to postpone an upcoming trip to Australia and Indonesia.

Before driving out of Grand Isle, past oil containment booms, yesterday, Mr. Obama told residents he's thinking about them even when he's not in town. He said he hopes to come back to Grand Isle when the oil's been cleaned up for another seafood feast.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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