RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, Im Renee Montagne.
DAVID GREENE, host:
And Im David Greene.
There are new worries along the Gulf as that oil keeps gushing. One of the biggest strategies to minimize the damage, may be doing some serious damage of its own. The federal government and the oil giant BP have been at odds over a chemical being used to disperse the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP is using this dispersant called Corexit, but there are questions about the long-term impact of the chemical on marine wildlife and human health. Under pressure from the government, BP has agreed to reduce the use of the chemical.
NPR's David Schaper has our report from Venice, Louisiana.
DAVID SCHAPER: EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson seems a little taken aback by the response she got from BP, when she said her agency, last week, concerns about the toxicity of Corexit and told the oil company to use a different chemical agent to try to disperse the giant oil slicks.
Ms. LISA JACKSON (Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency): The answer we got back from BP, to me, seemed more like a defense of their current choice; reminding me a little bit of that old commercial: I'd rather fight than switch.
SCHAPER: BP officials say their own testing finds the dispersant Corexit effective in breaking up oil and safe to aquatic life, adding it couldn't find large enough quantities of other dispersants to make the switch.
But Jackson isn't buying it, starting with the company's research.
Ms. JACKSON: So we'll do it ourselves. We have a lab - EPA does - in Gulf Breeze, Florida, and we're going to set up a series of toxicity tests, biodegradation tests, to look at what's going on out there now and to look at whether there's a better choice out there.
SCHAPER: In the meantime, much still isnt known about the long-term effects of Corexit, and yet BP has been using unprecedented amounts of the dispersant in the Gulf - tens of thousands of gallons of the stuff every day for well over a month now. So the EPA administrator says she met Sunday night with BP officials here in southern Louisiana to step up the pressure and get the company to scale back its use.
Ms. JACKSON: And I think we should see 50 to 75, maybe 80 percent reduction in the amount of dispersant used, while we continue to do these tests over the next days.
SCHAPER: Jackson says BP will reduce the use of the dispersant on the water's surface, mostly, injecting it deep underwater into the stream of oil spewing out of the blown-out well head, she says, has shown to be more effective and less toxic.
BP's Chief Operating Officer, Doug Suttles, in a conference call with reporters Monday, appeared more willing now to reduce the use of Corexit.
Mr. DOUG SUTTLES (Chief Operating Officer, BP America, Inc.): As we've stated to them, if we can find an alternative which is less toxic and as effective and is available - cause many of these are not available in the quantities required - but if it's available we will switch to that product.
SCHAPER: This flare-up with EPA is just one of several instances in recent days, in which the heat building under BP is searing like Louisiana hot sauce on a tong(ph).
Parish leaders here in southern Louisiana say the company is responding too slowly in getting boom out to protect marshes, wetlands, estuaries and islands when the arrival of destructive crude is imminent. They say BP, which is paying for and thus coordinating the response, sometimes disagrees with local leaders over which islands and wetlands to protect.
And David Carmadelle, mayor of the oil-inundated community of Grand Isle, says BP's decisions when deploying boom are sometimes puzzling.
Mayor DAVID CARMADELLE (Grand Isle, Louisiana): They activated 11 fishermen day before yesterday from Grand Isle, sent them all the way to Venice here to pick up booms - when we got booms in Grand Isle. This is the kind of stuff that we have to go through.
SCHAPER: Everyone here, from local fishermen to Governor Bobby Jindal, appears to be getting more and more frustrated with BP. Likewise, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who visited the Gulf Coast yesterday.
Secretary KEN SALAZAR (Interior Department): They will be held accountable. We will keep our boot on their neck until the job gets done.
SCHAPER: But Salazar's suggestion over the weekend that BP might be pushed out of the way if they can't get the job done, now appears to be little more than hyperbole. At the White House, Monday, Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen, who is leading the administration's response, said the government doesn't have much of a choice but to stick with BP.
Admiral THAD ALLEN (Commandant, Coast Guard): To push BP out of the way, it would raise a question: to replace them with what?
SCHAPER: And Allen defends BP, saying he's satisfied with the coordination and that the company is exhausting every technical means possible to cap the blown-out well and contain the oil.
David Schaper, NPR News, Venice, Louisiana.