BP's PR Doesn't Make Things Right With Locals

BP workers shovel oil and sand. Dave Martin/AP i i

hide captionBP workers shovel oil and sand along a 700-yard long strip of oil that washed up on the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala., on Friday.

Dave Martin/AP
BP workers shovel oil and sand. Dave Martin/AP

BP workers shovel oil and sand along a 700-yard long strip of oil that washed up on the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala., on Friday.

Dave Martin/AP

After President Obama questioned BP's spending on its image, the company announced it would pay more money to people who've filed claims for loss of income due to the oil spill. The move comes after a week of apologies from the company — apologies that some coastal residents say are not enough.

BP's public relations push this week included a television ad featuring CEO Tony Hayward in a coastal setting, seabirds chirping in the background. "For those affected and your families, I'm deeply sorry," Hayward said. "We will make this right."

But in towns on the Gulf Coast, BP has a credibility problem.

"Words are cheap," Alabama Republican Rep. Jo Bonner says. "It's time for action."

Bonner's congressional district is on the coast. He says nobody has handled the spill properly.

"We are dealing with a catastrophe that we weren't prepared for. The company wasn't prepared for it. The government regulators that permitted it weren't prepared for it. The administration wasn't prepared for it," he says. "It's frustrating beyond words to see people pointing fingers and wasting time about this, that or the other thing while the monster keeps growing."

The monster being just a few hundred feet from where he sits at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Ala., overlooking a wide expanse of sparkling white sand and blue-green surf.

As kids ride waves on their boogie boards, oil patties are washing up less than a half-mile away, and there's a lighter-fluid-like odor in the air.

The oil isn't the only mess BP is trying to clean up. Early on, Hayward made comments that didn't sit well with coastal residents.

On the Today Show in the beginning of May, Hayward said, "Well, it wasn't our accident, but we are absolutely responsible for the oil, for cleaning it up."

Four weeks later on the same program, he attempted an apology. "I'm sorry — we're sorry — for the massive disruption this has caused their lives. And there's no one who wants this over more than I do. You know, I want my life back."

He later apologized for that remark, and this week promised to stay until the cleanup is complete, "because our commitment is to work with the communities and societies of the Gulf Coast to give them back their societies and their livelihoods as fast as we can."

In Orange Beach, Ala., boat captain David Walter has lost his patience. He builds artificial fishing reefs and hasn't been able to work since the oil started leaking. BP gave him $5,000, but he says that didn't even cover a week's expenses.

"At first I was like, 'Accidents happen, BP is going to do what's right,'" he says. "And I defended them. 'Don't worry, they're going to make us whole.' Didn't happen. Not happening."

In Florida, Escambia County Commission Chairman Grover Robinson has also lost confidence in BP after being blindsided by reports that oil was nearing the Pensacola shoreline.

"No one from unified command called us to tell us this," he says. "We absolutely found that out essentially through actually a captain who had sent it to a private citizen. We got a text message. We trusted someone would tell us before it came up."

Friday, the oil reached Pensacola Beach. Four Gulf Coast states are now feeling the effects of the spill.

As if to counter BP's public relations push this week, Gulf Shores, Ala., musician Brent Burns wrote a song from the locals to BP. "I'm sorry's not enough," it goes, "You've got to mop it up. Stop tap dancing all around the truth. You tried to save a buck, now we've got all this muck. Keep cleaning till it looks brand new."

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