Southern Governors Discuss Oil Spill, Aftermath

As the Southern Governors' Association holds its annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala., NPR's Debbie Elliott tells guest host Audie Cornish about the elephant in the room: the BP oil spill and its aftermath. The governors met with BP's incoming CEO on Sunday.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

The Southern Governors' Association is meeting today in Birmingham, Alabama. Now, normally, this annual gathering doesn't get a whole lot of attention, but when five Southern states have had oil touch their shores and the chief executive of BP stops by, the discussion gets a lot more interesting.

NPR's Debbie Elliott is in Birmingham for the meeting.

Debbie, tell us more about it, because I'm guessing the oil spill and its aftermath has been a prime topic of conversation.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: It certainly has been. You know, the governors typically talk about business development, but this afternoon, it was all about recovery from the oil spill.

Alabama Governor Bob Riley, who is the host of this event, opened up a conversation on the topic, sort of acknowledging how taken aback the region was, that no one ever would have imagined that this could have happened, and that, quite frankly, people at all levels, officials at all levels were unprepared for it.

And he talked about how having the conversation on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was rather significant because, here, the region was still recovering from this hurricane and learned so much about the government response to emergencies. And now some of those same lessons and new ones are being learned after the BP oil spill.

CORNISH: I'm curious about what BP had to say. Obviously, the oil hasn't been flowing into the Gulf for more than a month now.

ELLIOTT: Right. And Robert Dudley, BP's soon-to-be chief executive, was there to speak with the governors and their staff. And he updated folks on the status of the well, saying that they are going to be pulling up that blowout preventer this week and trying to take some actions deep under the sea and finally complete the relief well, which will kill the well from the bottom. And he talked about how that will finally be the end of the saga.

He also sort of acknowledged that his company, you know - this accident should have never happened, he said. And he talked about how on the anniversary of Katrina, it was a reminder that humanity should never add to struggles that a region has already going through. And he made a promise that it is not on his agenda, quote, "to pack up and go home," that BP will be there to do what's necessary to restore the Gulf.

So he was trying to give assurances, I think, to states who have been skeptical about BP's missteps along the way, and some of the information that they've gotten. And he said, you know, you're right to be skeptical given the snafus that have happened. But remember, we are in unchartered territory here. And when you are in a position like this, things can go wrong.

CORNISH: And lastly, Debbie, we also heard that Ken Feinberg was on stage. He, of course, is in charge of distributing the $20 billion compensation fund. What were the governors looking for from him?

ELLIOTT: You know, there was a lot of pressure - you know, how fast are you going to get the money out? You know, time and time again, the issue has been people feel like they've been caught in this claims struggle, the endless paper-pushing and whatnot.

He was very clear that he took over just earlier this past week - money is already being sent out. He's already processing something like - or has reviewed more than 26,000 claims from people.

So he's saying, we're doing what we can. I have people reviewing things 24/7. And once somebody shows me their documentation, and it can be minimal documentation, he said, I don't need a tax return. Just show me something that shows how you earned a living and what you may have lost. I will get money to you within 24 hours.

Now there was some concern from governors that that documentation has been a real obstacle for people. And they want him to be very clear to people what they need to show in order to get their money. He's prepared to give six-month emergency payments to people. They do not have to file any waivers, you know, giving up the right for future claims in order to get this emergency payment.

So, clearly, the big message was get that money and get it into people's hands quickly because this region is really suffering, economic devastation in some places.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott at the Southern Governors' Association meeting in Birmingham, Alabama.

Thanks, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Thank you.

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