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The people most responsible for the oil spill in the Gulf, and its aftermath, showed up at this year's meeting of the Southern Governors' Association. It's being held in Birmingham, Alabama. And the governors who did not show up say a lot about the challenges facing the states along the Gulf. NPR's Debbie Elliott is there.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: The three top officials dealing with the oil spill - BPs Robert Dudley, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, and claims czar Ken Fienberg - came to reassure Southern governors that they are on the job. Dudley says engineers are close to permanently killing the well, but he says that wont be the end of this saga.�

Mr. ROBERT DUDLEY (BP): Much, of course, remains to be done. The capping of the well has led to speculation that BP is now prepared to pack up and go home. Thats not on my agenda. We have said we will make this right, and we will.

ELLIOTT: He says the company will only be able to restore public trust if it does whats necessary to restore the region. BP is a lead sponsor of the Southern Governors' Association.�

Alabama Republican Bob Riley was the sole Gulf Coast governor on hand to question the panel. Others - including Louisianas Bobby Jindal and Haley Barbour, of Mississippi - were back home commemorating the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which the region is still struggling to overcome. Riley says thats telling about what lies ahead in the wake of the oil spill.�

Governor BOB RILEY (Republican, Alabama): When you look back over the last five years, and you begin to understand that were still dealing with so many things that we thought would have been completed by now - I think that that is a great prelude into a conversation about, where do we go from here?

ELLIOTT: National incident commander Thad Allen says the federal response will soon devolve into a regional recovery structure.

Admiral THAD ALLEN (National Incident Commander): What we are basically trying to get to, with every state and local government entity, is to decide how clean is clean.

ELLIOTT: Riley says the first step to economic recovery is to get money in the hands of people who have lost income due to the oil spill.�Ken Feinberg took over the claims process a week ago, and says he has already authorized $6 million worth of emergency payments to 1,200 individuals. The biggest obstacle, he says, is a lack of documentation to show whats been lost.�Feinberg acknowledges time is the enemy.

Mr. KEN FEINBERG: Nothing will judge this program more than the speed at which I process the claims. And my dilemma right now, that Ive got to confront - not Governor Riley, and not the governors, and not the attorneys general - is how to deal with the absence of proof.

ELLIOTT: Governor Riley says that should have been figured out by now.

Gov. RILEY: I mean, weve been having this discussion now, for going on three months. And the immediacy of this problem to the people that are most affected - they need relief,and they need this now.

ELLIOTT: The governors will look to the future today, in a session with White House officials. The states want to know the administration's plans for lifting a moratorium on new deepwater drilling.�

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Birmingham.�

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