Incoming BP Chief: Time To Scale Back Cleanup

BP's incoming CEO, Bob Dudley, says it's time to scale back the oil spill cleanup in the Gulf. At a news conference today, he also announced that former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief James Lee Witt will help BP's work to restore Gulf communities in the wake of the spill.

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BP's incoming CEO, Bob Dudley, says it's time to scale back the Gulf oil spill cleanup. At a news conference today, he also announced that James Lee Witt, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will help BP with the recovery that remains.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports.

JAMIE TARABAY: Bob Dudley chose Mississippi, where he grew up, to tell everyone it's time to scale back part of the cleanup. Those guys in Hazmat suits stalking Gulf beaches, some of them are leaving, and further out in the water...

Mr. BOB DUDLEY (CEO, BP): We've had some good news offshore, you'll know that, but that doesn't mean we're done. We'll be here for years.

TARABAY: Dudley says with the leak stopped, there's very little oil left on the surface in the Gulf. Thousands of fishermen who have been out of work have instead been earning money working as part of the BP cleanup effort. But with less oil in the water, there's less need for skimming and laying boom. Dudley points out that some fishing bans have been lifted so boats can go back to work.

Mr. DUDLEY: What's happened in the last few days is larger and larger areas have been opened for fishing now, and that's a good sign. And we're going to put lots of lots of people will get back to work doing what they want to do, which is the fishing.

TARABAY: Some state waters along the Louisiana coast have been reopened for fishing, but some areas remain closed. Shrimper Eric Abair(ph), who delivers boom to skimming vessels in the Gulf, says he isn't ready for a scale-back or ready to fish.

Mr. ERIC ABAIR (Shrimper): We've got way too much oil in the Gulf not accounted for, and basically the way we feel out here, until it's all gone in the Gulf, nothing should be cut back.

TARABAY: Yesterday, he says, his boat pulled out 32,000 feet of oiled boom the consistency of peanut butter.

During the shrimping season, he and his crew live off what they catch, cooking it onboard. But he doesn't feel safe doing that now, and he feels BP is betraying the people who live here.

Mr. ABAIR: Personal note, I feel BP is basically seems like they're trying to back out of here and get out and leave us with the mess is what it seems like.

TARABAY: During the press conference, Dudley acknowledged that words meant little and action mattered more, but he also admitted that BP hasn't been very competent in processing the thousands of claims coming in. BP's turning the work over to an independent administrator after prompting by the White House.

And he also announced the appointment of James Lee Witt and his crisis management consulting group to handle the long-term restoration effort. Witt was director of FEMA under President Bill Clinton. He says it's critical the recovery plan meet the people's needs.

Mr. JAMES LEE WITT (Former Director, Federal Emergency Management Agency): I've seen the anguish and the pain that people have suffered after disaster events. I have seen communities come back stronger and better than ever before.

TARABAY: BP also announced that it's giving a Louisiana charity $100 million to help oil-rig workers out of work because of the moratorium on deepwater drilling. Dudley says the company has written more than 80,000 checks, worth a quarter of a billion dollars, and was selling assets around the world, he says, to make sure it can keep its financial commitments in the Gulf.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Biloxi.

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