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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Remembering Gulf Oil Disaster
Aired April 19, 2011 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, we're taking a deeper look at yet another air traffic foul-up. This one involves the first lady. What is going on in the tower and in the skies? That's coming up.
First, though, we're in Gulf tonight, in New Orleans, and we're "Keeping Them Honest" on promises that were made, promises that have been broken since the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. Now, tomorrow will mark one year since that rig blew up, a year since 11 men died, a year since the world watched 200 million gallons of oil pour into the ocean and people here saw their lives change overnight. They lost customers, they lost money, their businesses suffered. They suffered too. A way of life was threatened.
A lot of people made a lot of promises to fix things, to clean up the beaches and the bayous to make lives whole, make sure nothing like this ever happens again. So tonight we're taking a look at how well or how poorly BP, regulators, legislators and others have all lived up to their promises.
A year ago, with oil in the marshes and the beaches, BP CEO Tony Hayward said this -- quote -- "We will make this right," and so did his lieutenant, Doug Suttles.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOUG SUTTLES, COO, GLOBAL EXPLORATION, BP: We won't quit until we get this job done, I can promise you that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: So did the federal government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to spare no effort to respond to this crisis for as long as it continues. And we will spare no resource to clean up whatever damage is caused.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: A year later, must have of the coastline looks clean, until you do what CNN's David Mattingly recently did when he visited one of the Mississippi barrier islands. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been almost eight months since BP oil blackened the beaches of Mississippi's barrier islands and I find that the oil is still here.
(on camera): It's brittle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MATTINGLY: Not at all like we saw last summer. Look at it. It crumbles like a cookie, almost.
(voice-over): Cleaning up this wildlife refuge on Horn Island is slow. Machines can't dig deep enough to reach the buried oil without causing more environmental damage. So every day teams sift through the sensitive dunes and beaches for tar balls.
And every day, the wind and waves uncover more. This section of white sand beach has been cleaned ten to 15 times and it still looks peppered. (on camera): The small pieces in here. These little black specks, these are the tar balls?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Surprisingly, BP crews aren't even trying to pick up all the oil. BP has been directed to meet a government-set standard of less than 1 percent visible coverage.
DAN BROWN, U.S. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE: Within that section, within that entire section of beach, there has to be less than 1 percent coverage.
MATTINGLY (on camera): So out of every 1,000 feet of beach you can still have ten feet of oil?
BROWN: Over that entire 1,000 feet, yes.
MATTINGLY: That sounds like a lot to me.
BROWN: Well, it's a standard that was determined.
O'BRIEN: Well, now migratory birds are nesting on the still contaminated island and others in the Gulf. A year ago, oil was thick on the surface in the local marshes. Today, many of those same marshes, it's still thick but now it's on the bottom. Some beaches are suffering from chronic re-oiling, that's oil that washes back onto the shore. And many Gulf businesses are still feeling it. Even though tourism here in New Orleans is vibrant, it's less though on the shore.
And according to "The Times-Picayune" tourism at Alabama beaches has fallen. It's flat on the Florida Panhandle. A somewhat better picture on the Louisiana coastal parishes, where idle fishermen and oil field workers were able to make some money doing cleanup work.
As for making them whole, here's what Kenneth Feinberg, he's BP's man in charge of the compensation fund, said last year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNETH FEINBERG, INDEPENDENT ADMINISTRATOR, GULF SPILL INDEPENDENT CLAIMS FUND: This is not about politics. This is about helping people in the Gulf. That's what this is about. I'm working for you, not for BP. If you file a claim with me, and the claim is eligible, and it is corroborated, you will be paid forthwith, 24, 48 hours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: They promised. So far, BP has paid out $4 billion of that $20 billion pledged.
But as 360's Tom Foreman discovered, there are plenty of complaints about no payments, slow payments, or as in this woman's case, low payments, only 10 percent of what she says she's due.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When you think back to those ads that BP ran promising to stay and solve everything and fix it all in the end, what do you think now?
SARAH RIGAUD, GULF COAST: Well, I think they were fibbing. I just don't believe anything they tell us anymore. It's not happened.
O'BRIEN: We will have more from Tom who sat down with Kenneth Feinberg a little bit later in our program. As for how to make sure that none of this will ever happen again, listen to what the government's top regulator, Michael Bromwich, said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL BROMWICH, BUREAU OF OCEAN ENERGY MANAGEMENT: Our regulatory changes over the past year have been sweeping, and they have been swift.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Sweeping and swift. Well, yes and no. Mr. Bromwich's new agency replaces the wildly discredited Minerals Management Service that used to oversee drilling and the agency has already issued new rules on well design, blowout preventers, and spill response but he's had to fight for funding from Congress, and a comprehensive package of safety reforms that was passed by the House last year still bottled up in Congress.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bromwich's agency has approved 11 deepwater drills and permits since February, 17 more permits are pending, and their new polling shows that 69 percent of Americans want more drilling. But what nobody wants is another tragedy like the one that took 11 lives last year. That's what brings us here tonight. So there's clearly a lot left undone. A year after the disaster, and there's much that may not get done any time soon. So before we bring our guests in, most who are very passionate about not only the region and the unique way of life here but also what steps need to be taken to move forward, let's begin by taking you back to day one.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It began with a powerful explosion less than 24 hours ago. Helicopters and ships are frantically searching the waters off Venice, Louisiana, for 11 people who are missing after the blast. Federal authorities tell CNN that so far there has been no report of any oil spill.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: At first it seemed like a story about trying to find those people, rescuing those people and dealing with the explosion.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The burning oil rig sank into the sea. The missing 11 workers are now feared dead and this morning authorities have major concerns about the crude oil at the rate of 336,000 gallons a day spilling into the Gulf.
ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, NATIONAL INCIDENT COMMANDER: When the rig actually sunk, a couple hours later I was actually in the Oval Office with the secretary briefing the president on what had happened. But it was clear to everybody with the order of magnitude that we were dealing with, we needed to declare a spill of national significance.
TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BP GROUP: (INAUDIBLE) this morning is about 200 feet above the leak being lowered very carefully onto the leak. It works in 300 to 400 feet of water but the pressures and temperatures are very different here, so we cannot be confident that it will work.
SUTTLES: Our opportunity we're pursuing at the moment is what is called the top kill or junk shot opportunity. I know this sounds very basic, but it's actually a quite complex technique.
COOPER: BP, which owns the well, has offered a bunch of ideas for stopping the leak but frankly they all seem kind of half baked. The most surprising, something they're calling the junk shot which involves shooting old golf balls, tires, rubber, cement into the leak. Talking about golf balls and tires.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: What really started happening is that the whole country was trying to plug that hole. And it became very apparent that BP really didn't know what they were doing.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: People on the coastline obviously in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are very concerned, but we can tell you, because we took a three-and-a- half-hour boat ride to get out here, that the oil is still at least 35, or 40 miles away.
We were all fearful that this oil was going to come to shore. We heard reports that oil had reached land in the Chandeleur Islands.
It was the first oil we saw with land, and we anticipated there would be a lot more to come.
COOPER: Because remember, the first couple of weeks, there was no real sign of oil coming ashore. But until you actually see it, I think a lot of people didn't it really seem, it didn't seem real.
There's a thick layer of crude oil over this entire part of the wetlands. You can just reach down and it just coats your glove when you put your hand in it. You can also see it out on the reeds coating about a foot or two up. The tide has gone down a little bit, but all these plants here have, they have just been killed.
BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: They have no plan. The Coast Guard nor BP has a plan. There's nobody cleaning up the marsh. They told us all along the dispersements would seek it, break it apart. I want to see a plan. If you're not going to have a plan, get the hell out of the way and let us go do it ourselves.
COOPER: I think it took us a while to realize how un-transparent BP was being.
HAYWARD: We don't yet have all the answers. I'm not prepared. I had no prior knowledge. I haven't seen this. Again, I haven't seen this.
COOPER: We were asking BP for interviews pretty much every day. I viewed it as my job and our job to get some of their officials on and just ask them about discrepancies.
And today, just as we have done every day for weeks now, literally weeks, we invited BP CEO Tony Hayward to come on 360. Again today, the answer was no. He does the morning shows. Maybe he doesn't want to stay up late. We will stay up. I will wake up early.
BP and the government estimate of 5,000 gallons a day leaking, the one that the government has been using, BP has been using for more than a month now, OK, today we learned that's wrong, way wrong.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A thousand barrels per day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000 barrels a day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five thousand barrels per day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Range of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day.
ALLEN: Well, 12,000 to 19,000 and 12,000 to 25,000. We should be in the range of somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 barrels per day.
COOPER: Today for the first time we got these live images, these live feeds. But these images were provided by BP only after weeks of prodding from Congress and the media.
BRINKLEY: And the defining moment was when the camera came and people could see this wasn't a trickle, that it really hadn't been slowing down, that it was gushing out.
ALLEN: I basically told the senior leadership of BP, I said, you're going to have to stream this video, there's no choice.
COOPER: What is it like, what is the toughest part (INAUDIBLE)?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our future. It's really scary, because we're very resilient people, but I don't know think we will be able to spring back from this.
HAYWARD: We're sorry for the massive disruption it's caused to their lives. There's no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I would like my life back.
COOPER: More from BP CEO Tony Hayward. He admitted his company had not been entirely prepared for a leak such as this. Clearly we knew that. He also issued an apology today for saying he wants this disaster over because he would like his life back.
But then he went on to say, telling "The Financial Times" that the oil containment effort has been, and I quote, very successful in keeping oil away from the coast. Very successful?
So, Billy, when you hear Tony Hayward saying he wants his life back?
NUNGESSER: It's embarrassing. How can a human being not have compassion for what's going on here? How can his board not throw him off and fire him?
COOPER: Why is this so emotional for you, Billy?
NUNGESSER: You don't get the calls I get every night. This is their lives.
It aged me greatly. It's to not know what to tell them. I'm more angry that we didn't have a clear definition of who was in charge. And Thad Allen said, well, I'm 51 percent in charge. And I said who's 49 percent in charge? And he said BP. That moment sticks in my mind of dodging the bullet, passing the blame, and finger pointing in many directions. And that was pretty typical through this whole disaster.
COOPER: A lot of people here kind of asked that question. I mean, they feel like BP is running the show. Are you in charge?
ALLEN: Oh, there's no doubt the federal government is in charge and by law the federal on scene coordinator direct the responses, but BP has to be involved because they're the responsible party and they bear the costs.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This president needs to tell BP, I'm your daddy, I'm in charge, you're going to do what we say. You're a multinational company that is greedy and you may be guilty of criminal activity.
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: They need to come down to New Orleans, the president needs to come down to New Orleans and actually help us and do his job. We're tired of them talking like John Wayne and acting like Pee-wee Herman.
OBAMA: I ultimately take responsibility for solving this crisis. I'm the president and the buck stops with me. So I give the people of this community and the entire Gulf my word that we're going to hold ourselves accountable to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes to stop this catastrophe.
COOPER: Breaking news we start with. For the first time since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank, a development that could be major. As we look at live pictures from down below, engineers might soon be able to stop nearly drop of oil from leaking into the Gulf. This is what they tell us.
ALLEN: This will significantly improve our situation regarding the amount of oil coming to the surface while we finish the relief wells, which are the final solution.
COOPER: And is BP pretty confident this is going to work?
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly sound pretty confident. Why didn't they try this before? I asked BP that today. You're going to love this, Anderson. BP's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, said today that when he looks back at the steps taken and the order of them, he think most people would think they -- quote -- "make a lot of sense." That's what he said.
COOPER: Breaking news tonight, but no one down here is celebrating just yet. Take a look. What you see is the new capping stack on top of BP's broken well. What you don't see not anymore is that huge cloud of oil leaking into the Gulf.
NUNGESSER: And I grabbed the mike and told the people, and there was a loud cheer and applause. And you could see it on the face of the fishermen, the feeling of finally there's light at the end of the tunnel.
O'BRIEN: And with that, it ended. And that's the work of producer Justine Redman (ph) and associate producer Kelly Daniel (ph).
Billy Nungesser is with us. You saw him about a year ago, younger in that piece, he is the president of Plaquemines Parish.
It's nice to have you with us. Thank you for being with us.
Also joining us, Rice University history professor Douglas Brinkley. He was also in that piece. He's in Washington, D.C., also the author of "The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America," his latest book. It's nice to have you both.
Billy, let's start with you. You and Anderson obviously, we could tell in that historical look back, talked a lot and you were very emotional over the last year. Assess the situation for me today. How are things?
NUNGESSER: Every day, we had hoped that BP would step up to the plate, but today they're still dodging the bullet. It's a lot better and we have got good fish and we have got good seafood. There's isolated areas, as you saw, Pass a Loutre still has oil. Every day it washes it into the marsh. You don't see the pelicans covered like you did, but any oil on their breasts, they still get break that insulation and get pneumonia and die. So we're not seeing those horrible pictures, but we still have a problem, and we're still having a problem today a year later.
I can't tell you who is in charge still. Doug Suttles is gone. Thad Allen is gone. Who is in charge?
O'BRIEN: Doug Brinkley, you were critical a lot and often about BP and the transparency to the public frankly. What's your assessment about the transparency today and who is really running the show here now?
BRINKLEY: Well, BP remains a bad player.
They did whatever they needed to do in Louisiana while the cameras were there. And as soon as the media stopped doing a drumbeat on them, they disappeared. The fact that you can have a CNN reporter go around Barataria Bay today or go to some of the offshore islands and find oil, why aren't they down there continuing to have an environmental cleanup?
They also haven't made really good to the people of Louisiana. They have put some millions in, but the $20 million is coming in, in such a trickle that many people are still very flustered. The good news for Louisiana is a lot of the oil has dispersed, a lot has evaporated, and it's looking like it's not as quite as bad an environmental disaster for the ecosystem as people thought. But there are pockets, as Billy said, of Louisiana that are in awful shape right now and BP should be staying on that, as should the federal government.
O'BRIEN: Doug and Billy, we're going to ask you to stick around with me. We will take a short break, but we will talk a little bit more, especially about that money, after the break.
And then later, BP's man in charge of paying out the damage claims. He says we should look at what is half full in the glass. Some people who are trying to get compensation for their losses say, no, that glass is actually completely empty. We will have their complaints, his answers as we keep them honest.
And then later how did an air traffic controller put the first lady's flight on a course that called for a last-minute evasive action? That scare in the skies and more questions about just how safe we all are when 360 continues from the Gulf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: We seen a number of birds being brought in, just completely covered in oil. Three what looked like seagulls or some sort of gulls, frankly it was hard to tell, they were so covered in oil. I don't think I have ever actually seen birds that were that just drenched with oil. It's a sickening sight to see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: That was Anderson last June. The question is, what about now?
CNN's Rob Marciano spoke with this official, "Keeping Them Honest" as part of a search for answers.
JASON CASE, FLORIDA ENVIRONMENTAL COORDINATOR: I do feel good about the partnership and the progress that we've made. I don't think the job is done, though, by any means.
ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Nowhere is that more evident than in Louisiana's marshes at the heart of this fragile ecosystem. Here thick oil still remains and the cleanup will go on for months, if not years.
(on camera): These beaches looked phenomenal compared to a year ago, but the story on wildlife, the impact from the oil spill, that continues.
Just this January 1st, there had been a huge number of dead dolphins and turtles that have washed up on these beaches possibly linked to the oil spill. What's going to happen to wildlife in the next 12 months, the next decade? We still don't know.
O'BRIEN: We're back with Billy Nungesser and Douglas Brinkley joining us from Washington, D.C.
Billy, let's start with you. You just heard him say, you know, we really don't know what the long-term environmental impact is going to be. Is it being monitored? Do you feel like it's being watched and people are actually keeping close track, so they will know?
NUNGESSER: Absolutely not. The spots you saw, you don't have the thick oil. But when a bird gets a little bit of oil on its breast, it's like you punching a hole in a rubber boot. You're going to get pneumonia and die. You're going to crawl back in the marsh and die. And those areas you just saw in TV, the birds continue to go through there to drink the water. And we're still seeing wildlife affected. And there's nobody up there rescuing the wild life, monitor the situation. Only when a camera crew goes out there you see a dog and pony show, like they're trying to clean the marsh.
O'BRIEN: I was going to ask you is that just because the media has sort of decamped and moved on to other stories?
NUNGESSER: If they would have worked 24-7 on the cleanup, we would have seen most of the area cleaned up and bank stabilization in place. We're losing land every day because of the lack of the response.
O'BRIEN: David Brinkley, you're a presidential historian and early President Obama was down here we heard -- sorry. Douglas. I always call you...
BRINKLEY: It's OK.
O'BRIEN: I have done that before, I'm embarrassed to say, as you know, Douglas Brinkley. You know, let me ask you a question about the president. We heard him say, I'm the president, the buck stops with me. You said it was going to be a very pivotal test for his presidency. How do you rate how he's doing?
BRINKLEY: Well, the one thing the administration has done well, which people aren't talking about, is they have slowed down offshore drilling in other places.
There's talk out of Interior under Ken Salazar about treasured landscapes, meaning pre-BP spill, people were looking to drill the Chesapeake, they were looking to drill off of Gulf Florida near Sanibel Island and the Gulf Coast. They were looking to drill Arctic Alaska. Shell oil was right offshore and using a lot of legal mechanisms, there have been stalling, so if there's been a one-year impact from the Obama administration, it's been less the sense of saving Louisiana wetlands.
It's been slow government reaction of having a real rehabilitation and recovery plan down there. But you have seen the administration looking at other places like Arctic Alaska, Chesapeake, Florida, and not allowing more offshore drilling.
In 1969, Soledad, when you had the Santa Barbara spill, the EPA got crated out of that a year later. We haven't really had that big national consciousness over the BP spill. People focus on Louisiana more so, the bigger national story is that offshore is being frowned upon, just like nuclear power is after Japan in certain communities in the United States right now.
O'BRIEN: Billy, let's talk about berms because you came on this show, Anderson's show, and you pleaded for berms. And now there are scientists who say not only were berms a mistake, that they actually could have gotten in the way, harmed any kind of preventative activity. NUNGESSER: Well, we heard all the reasons why not to build them. When the president in Grand Isle sent his team back down to listen to the local leaders, not one of them said don't build the berms. And the president said, Thad Allen, bring me back a yes or a no. None of them could say don't build it.
It's easy to throw rocks after the fact. They said all the oil was going to go to Florida and it was going to destroy everything we heard. It's the single largest coastal restoration project in the history of America. It was permanent in 19 days without cutting any hurdles. It shows we can't go through studies for eight to 10 years if we are going to save coastal Louisiana.
It's a positive thing. It's the only positive thing that's come out of this spill. And the money they cost, I guarantee you the Coast Guard wasted more money and nobody...
O'BRIEN: So you think the berms are a positive thing...
O'BRIEN: ... even though scientists have said that they think in retrospect they were a mistake, whether it was...
NUNGESSER: Show us the facts. Quit throwing rocks without facts. It's absolutely absurd.
O'BRIEN: Douglas Brinkley, BP took a major, major P.R. hit as a corporation. How would you assess how they are doing today?
BRINKLEY: Well, it's still a major oil company, but their brand is sort of like the Jolly Roger flag. Nobody wants to be associated with BP.
I mean, Putin's Russia just gave them the boot from drilling in the Russian Arctic because BP didn't know what they were doing. They're a company floundering. They're floundering because nobody trusts them. Stockholders don't trust them, the public doesn't because they really haven't made good on Louisiana. They started to, they did enough to get by, but their heart was never really in making right the Louisiana wetlands.
And in general, BP should be a leader now after having experienced the death of these men in the Gulf of Mexico and be talking about the need for Louisiana to get conservation tax, that they're going to put money into the wetlands. You get money oil out of the Gulf of Mexico, money should go back to doing conservation efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. They have been close to a zero, BP, and they don't impress anybody except for some people that have wanted to buy their stocks because it's gone up a little bit from when it was so low.
O'BRIEN: All right, Doug Brinkley and Billy Nungesser, I'm going to ask you gentlemen to stick around for one more block with me. We're going to talk money up next, the $20 billion man who heads the fund that decides if fishermen and others will get reimbursed for their losses linked to the Gulf spill. A year later, there's lots of criticism of Kenneth Feinberg. We're tracking the cash and tracking the outrage too.
Also tonight, a plane carrying the first lady Michelle Obama aborts landing after a close call. Is this another snafu linked to the FAA? We have got some answers ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STU SCHEER, CHARTER FISHING OPERATOR: You wonder how a guy my age at 260 pounds can be emotional. Sorry. But you know, it's like I told you, saltwater runs through my veins. It's all I ever wanted to do is fish.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: That's Captain Stu Sheer, a Louisiana charter fishing operator, last June worried about his business, worried about his way of life. And he's still worried today. Business is still slow, and he's still waiting to see if he's ever going to get reimbursed for his losses.
Unfortunately, he's not alone. Hundreds of thousands of people here who rely on the Gulf for their livelihood say they've lost a lot of money due to the oil disaster. They've turned to the Gulf coast claims facility, hoping to be reimbursed with 35 offices in five states that investigates claims, decides how much cash, if any, should be paid out.
BP provided $20 billion to the fund, and it's hardly been tapped a year later. Some people haven't even seen a dime. Others say they should get more than they've been given.
Some are accused of trying to cash in on the disaster. Tom Foreman is "Keeping Them Honest" for us tonight.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Way down on Grand Isle where the fishermen and tourists were chased away by oil, Sarah Rigaud is waiting for them to come back to her restaurant and for a check to cover her lost income.
SARAH RIGAUD, RESTAURANT OWNER: We're not even 50 percent of what we used to have.
FOREMAN: Like thousands, she's filed a claim for reimbursement but says she's received less than 10 percent of the more than $100,000 she believes she is owed.
(on camera) When you think back to those ads that BP ran, promising to stay and solve everything and fix it all in the end, what do you think now? RIGAUD: Well, I think they were fibbing. I just don't believe anything they tell us anymore. It's not happened, so why should I believe them?
FOREMAN (voice-over): The group handling such losses is the Gulf Coast claims facility. And the man in charge, Ken Feinberg, admits there have been mistakes. But they paid $4 billion in claims in nine months out of the $20 billion BP has pledged for that purpose.
KEN FEINBERG, GULF COAST CLAIMS FACILITY: We have received, Tom, 800,000 claims. The volume is overwhelming. We have processed 2/3 of the claims. So I think in terms of speed, in terms of generosity, we're doing it right.
FOREMAN: Don't say that in New Orleans at P&J Oyster Company, in business for more than a century. We met the owners, the Sunsari Brothers, a year ago, hoping the oyster beds would somehow survive events offshore.
AL SUNSERI, OWNER, P&J OYSTER COMPANY: It would be loud, a lot of activity going on, shuckers lined up along this stall and this stall.
FOREMAN: Today, Louisiana oysters have still not recovered, and their shop is a shell. More than 20 jobs gone. Al Sunsari's lawyers won't let him talk numbers, but he says he, too, has received little reimbursement despite months of waiting, so he has little faith in promises from BP and the claims office.
SUNSARI: I expected them to follow through on that, as time went on, I found out that isn't what was occurring. And I've become angry.
FOREMAN: While not talking specifically about any specific claims, Feinberg says many clients have been satisfied, and?
FEINBERG: If there is a claimant who didn't get paid and is waiting and waiting and waiting, there's something about that claim that's a problem.
FOREMAN: Feinberg has a problem, too. His office is paid $1.25 million a month by BP to handle these claims. That has critics asking if he is tilting his decisions in BP's favor. He answers such questions with one of his own.
FEINBERG: Who else is going to pay the freight for this entire program? You can't ask the claimants to pay. You can't ask the government, state, local and federal government to pay the costs of this.
FOREMAN (on camera): But your concern, you're saying, is not the cost to BP?
FEINBERG: 'm saying that I'm not beholden to BP.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Still, such arguments clearly sound hollow for those convinced that they're being marginalized by the reimbursement program. Folks, who a year after the spill, are still waiting to be made hold, and losing hope that it will ever happen.
Tom Foreman, CNN, Grand Isle, Louisiana.
O'BRIEN: Take a minute to dig a little deeper. Joining us again is Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser, and Mike Magner. He's the managing editor of "The National Journal." He's also the author of "Poisoned Legacy: The Human Cost of BP's Rise to Power."
Also joining us from New York is reporter Kim Barker. Thanks for being with us, all of you.
Billy, let's start with you. You know, early on, a year ago, we really were talking about a lack of transparency from BP, red tape, people crying constantly about just how frustrated and overwhelmed they felt. You heard him in the piece say -- Feinberg say, you know, "I think we're doing it right." Do you agree?
BILLY NUNGESSER, PLAQUEMINES PARISH PRESIDENT: No. There's been a lot of excuses. Early on, the oyster beds, for instance, it's a three or four-year process. They came in and said, "OK, we're going to make it right; we're going to pay you for four years." Then they turned around and said, "Well, the oysters were damaged by fresh water, from the diversions." They said, "It wasn't really the oil. So we're not going to pay you." You know, it gets better, then it gets worse.
It seems like the same thing with the cleanup. They're dragging their feet, dragging on. They're going to wear people out. So there's no end in sight. These people can't take much longer.
When the people were here full of hotels, they're gone now. The cleanup people are gone. The jobs are gone. It is critical now. All they have is their claim. And every week, every month puts them farther and farther behind.
O'BRIEN: And there's a couple numbers in that piece we heard from Tom Foreman a minute ago I thought were stunning. First, $4 billion of $20 billion spent.
KIM BARKER, REPORTER: Right.
O'BRIEN: That seems low to lots of people. What did your reporting show? And then another number, $1.25 million paid every month to Ken Feinberg and his law firm to administer the fund? I believe seven lawyers or so.
BARKER: We were looking at all the money coming into one specific parish in Louisiana and taking a look at the effects of that and taking a look at the cleanup and the claims, as well.
As far as the claims are concerned, what we were able to find is that it was very arbitrary. You can't really say it's malicious one way or the other, but what you can say is that some people got a lot and some people got very little. And these are the people that told us they made the same amount of money in 2009. It all depended on the sort of paperwork you showed up with and who you talked to.
Four billion dollars doesn't seem like a lot when you compare it with $20 billion, but I would caution everybody to remember that we don't know what's going to happen down there. I think a lot of people have said that tonight. We have no idea what -- what the actual damage is in the Gulf and what the ultimate damage for a lot of these fishermen. And I think that there is just a big wait-and-see attitude. And Ken Feinberg's firm does make a lot of money. There's no doubt about that.
O'BRIEN: Yes. An absolute ton of money, I think it's fair to say.
Mike, the BP commercials were actually very commercial. I mean, they were very, very emotional, where someone would sort of look at the camera and say, you know, "We will fix things. We won't leave you behind." When you look at it now, does it feel like BP is here fixing things? I mean, Ken Feinberg's certainly here, doling out the money.
MIKE MAGNER, AUTHOR, "POISONED LEGACY": I think the pace is way too slow. The toll on people's lives from having to wait for so long for payments, sort of belies what they're saying about making people whole again.
I spoke a couple weeks ago to a congressman from Alabama, Joe Bonner, who represents coastal counties. They're very reliant on tourism for their -- for their incomes, businesses there, which were devastated last year because nobody came to the beach.
And he told me that, by the beginning of April, there had been 6,800 Alabama businesses that filed claims from the fund. And at the beginning of April, fewer than 300 of those had received final or interim payments. It's unbelievable.
And in conjunction with that, he told me that there's a hotline for services in his district. And from February to March, when people were really anticipating getting their payments, because the deadline was in November, and they felt it should be coming then, the number of calls to those help lines quadrupled, just from February to March. Because people have been reaching the end of their ropes. They're losing their businesses and homes, because they don't have any income.
O'BRIEN: Billy, you keep talking about full disclosure. You want full disclosure from BP. Specifically, what do you want to know?
NUNGESSER: We want to know everything. We want to know where is the money. We want to know why they're dragging their feet on the cleanup and why they're not giving us the assets they promised to leave here.
O'BRIEN: Like what assets?
NUNGESSER: To fight the oil. Let's say a hurricane brings oil in this hurricane season. Most -- 99 percent of the assets are gone. They said, "We're going to leave you equipment. We're going to leave equipment here so you'll never be caught with your pants down again if this oil comes ashore." That's not true. It's all gone.
O'BRIEN: None left behind?
NUNGESSER: It's been one lie after another. And the long-term effects of that oil out there, we don't know. The fish swam away. What about the eggs? We asked for fishery hatcheries, so if we see a declined fish, we have an adult, we put it in the water. We were promised and promised and promised, and now the people that made the promises no longer work for BP. They keep changing people.
O'BRIEN: Kim, let me ask you a question. Your article talks about Craig Dafaro (ph), who's the president of St. Bernard Parish, talks about huge sums of money that some of the people there in St. Bernard Parish, which is a parish I know very, very well, have made. And yet others who aren't connected have still struggled to get any kind of payment at all.
BARKER: That's definitely what people told us. We first went down there to do a story about the fishermen and followed them through after the spill to see what happened to them. And what we kept hearing over and over again is that the people who got on the cleanup had connections and you had to know somebody to get involved with that.
And we also found that the lead cleanup company down there that was working in the parish had no oil spill experience whatsoever and ended up being supported by a key campaign supporter of Craig Dafaro (ph).
Also, you had the sheriff down there being involved with a company -- with a company that ended up renting land to BP for more than $1 million, according to BP. That they had paid $1,700 to lease a month, which is a huge markup.
O'BRIEN: It's a fascinating article. Kim Barker, thank you for joining us. Billy Nungesser and Mike Magner, thank you also.
MAGNER: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: Certainly appreciate it.
Coming up next -- my pleasure -- another air traffic controller mistake leads to a close call for a plane that's carrying the first lady, Michelle Obama. Just the latest in a series of high-profile screw-ups. What's going on? We're going to talk to aviation expert Jim Tilmon straight ahead.
But first here's Isha Sesay.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, coming up, a 360 exclusive. The first look -- in fact, the closest view yet -- inside the hot zone around Japan's crippled nuclear reactor. You're looking at a live picture right now. CNN's Stan Grant is there. We'll show you around this atomic ghost town when 360 continues.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Some tense moments in the skies over Washington, D.C., today. A military 737 carrying first lady Michelle Obama was forced to abort its landing yesterday at Andrews Air Force Base. An error by an air-traffic controller allowed the first lady's jet to get too close to a military cargo plane that was on the runway. The FAA is now investigating.
The White House says Mrs. Obama was never in danger.
That's not all. The FAA has suspended an air-traffic controller in Cleveland, who was discovered to be watching a movie while he was on the job on Sunday morning. Yes, a movie. The manager on duty was suspended, as well.
And there's been much, much more. Six other troubling incidents over the last couple of months, mostly involving controllers who fell asleep on the job. Add to that a movie buff and the first lady incident. Kind of makes you wonder.
Joining me now, retired airline pilot Jim Tilmon.
Jim, nice to chat with you. Thanks for being with us. Give me a sense about the first lady's plane. Was she ever in genuine danger?
JIM TILMON, RETIRED AIRLINE PILOT: No, I don't think that was a dangerous situation, but it was one that we cannot afford to allow to happen. We cannot become kind of, it's OK.
I mean, let's face it: when you -- when you look at the situation, you would think, I mean, you would think that an air- traffic controller, with all the scrutiny that's being given to those folks right now, would be extra careful with an airplane that should have been given far more spacing than maybe other airplanes in the sky. They should be getting...
O'BRIEN: Yes, you would think that the first lady's plane would sort of get a second and third and fourth and tenth look.
There was a sense, though, that not only did the plane get too close, but then the person who was responsible for that plane said that the planes were farther apart than they actually were. Is that extra concerning to you?
TILMON: Oh, yes, absolutely. I mean, giving accurate information is important. Now, granted, the first lady's airplane has a T-cast (ph), a system that will give them a chance to see the airplane in front of them and get a feel for it.
But the responsibility falls with the air-traffic controllers. They should not have turned them over. And I understand he turned this airplane over at four miles distance, what he was told. The pilot was told. Actually it was closer to three miles. That's ridiculous.
O'BRIEN: The incident comes after the FAA warned that errors by air traffic controllers nationwide have increased 51 percent. So why? I mean, that number is huge. Is this a systemic problem? Did something change? What's going on?
TILMON: Soledad, we've got to examine the culture of what's going on in the air-traffic control system. And I think that the authorities are trying to do that now, going around, visiting all these air-traffic controllers where they work and getting some feedback as to exactly what the issues are and what could be done to make things better.
But we better get on this thing and get on it right now. We are flirting around with something that could turn out to be a disaster. This was embarrassing. It was not really smart. It was not professional. It was far short of what I have known to understand about the expertise and professionalism of air traffic controllers.
O'BRIEN: Air traffic controllers we keep reading about air traffic controllers falling asleep. When you keep on the job watching a movie, is it just a sense of people being overworked? What do you think is at work here?
TILMON: Well, I mean, there are a lot of things involved with this. But I got to tell you, one of the things that's happened is we have an aging force. We have -- by that, I'm saying these -- a lot of the air-traffic controllers that were hired after the president fired all of the other air-traffic controllers are now reaching close to 50, 60 years old, which is, I think, the retirement age.
Their attitude may have changed over the years. There is a thing called routine that creeps into certain kinds of operations. And you get to the place that every day you do the same thing, never anything that's out of the ordinary. And you may get lax, you may get lulled into a sense of everything is going to be just fine.
You also, over a period of time, begin to develop kind of a little cheating. Kind of little...
O'BRIEN: Short cuts.
TILMON: Yes, short cuts. And you start doing that, and now you're going to create something really bad.
O'BRIEN: All right. Well, Jim Tilmon, thank you for giving us some of this information. Certainly appreciate it. Scary stuff, and hopefully, they will be able to stop what we've been seeing. That number is -- 51 percent is huge.
Just ahead tonight, inside Japan's radiation hot zone not very far from the crippled nuclear plant. A place no longer save to live. Only CNN is there tonight. We're going to show you around.
Plus, word of an investigation being launched into the charity run by Mortenson.
All right. Jim Tilmon, thank you forgiving us this information. Scary stuff and hopefully they will be able to stop what we've been seeing that number is 51 percent is huge. Just ahead, inside Japan's radiation hot zone not far from the crippled nuclear plant, a place no longer safe to live. Only CNN is there tonight.
Plus, word of an investigation being launched into the charity run by Greg Mortenson, the author of "Three Cups of Tea." We talked about yesterday, built schools in central Asia. He says he's done nothing wrong, but there are questions about the finances.
And then dramatic new home video of a tornado that tore through North Carolina. So why did the man who shot the video from his truck not drive away? We've got the answer when 360 continues right after this. Stay with us.
O'BRIEN: In Japan, the death toll from the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami has now topped 14,000. More than 13,000 people are still missing more than a month after the disaster.
At the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, we're finally getting a look at the conditions inside the reactor building. Tokyo Electric Power, which owns the facility, sent robots armed with lights and cameras. The robots were capable of opening doors and gaining access. And now the company has released some of the photos taken. You can see it right there.
They say the temperature in the building housing reactor two is over 100 degrees but the radiation level there has dropped. Buildings housing reactors one and three were seriously damaged by explosions. Radiation levels in those buildings are still very high.
Right now we want to give you a look inside the so-called hot zone where residents have been evacuated. Only CNN is there tonight. Stan Grant joins us. He is wearing a mask and protective clothing.
Stan, how exactly were you able to get in and how close were you able to get to the plant?
STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Soledad. I'm surprised that we were able to actually get inside this 20-kilometer zone. From where I'm standing now, the Fukushima Daiichi plant is about 18 kilometers or so from where I am.
We drove up to this area, the exclusion zone itself. Having spoken to the guards there, they said it was safe. And the radiation readings are coming in at a level that is relatively low that are not going to cause any effects or ill effects to my health. They let us come through.
Now, the area I'm standing in is a ghost town. Any life that existed here is gone. People have deserted this town. There is widespread destruction as a result of the tsunami.
When I look around here, there are still some farm animals, some horses, some cattle, chickens and so on that have been left here. But very, very few signs of people. There are cars that occasionally come through this area. The guards are letting residents to come back in to check on their homes but then leave once again. As you can see, when you come into this area, you must wear a mask. To protect from contact with any potentially dangerous contaminated material, particularly the dust. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here, and any of the radiation that maybe came in on the winds or the dust we need to wear these masks to protect against.
I did come across one man whose family has fled this area, who has lived in this area for more than 150 years. He says that he's really concerned about his future. Quite a young man in his 20s. He said he is now worried about when he wants to have a family, will there be any ill effects. He's worried about his own health going through into the future. He says he may never come back. He says his father wants to return to be able to work these fields again, to be able to live in the home his family has lived in for more than 150 years. But being a young man, he says he may have to make his life elsewhere.
This is just one story of so many of the people who have been affected. As a result not just of the tsunami, Soledad, but also a result of this ongoing nuclear crisis -- Soledad.
O'BRIEN: Goodness, that's just a certain story. All right. Stan Grant, thank you for that update. Appreciate it.
And we're following several other stories tonight. Isha Sesay has a "360 News & Business Bulletin" for us.
SESAY: Hi, there, Soledad.
We begin with a "360 Follow" to a story we reported last night. Montana's attorney general has opened an investigation into the charitable organization run by Greg Mortenson, author of the popular book, "Three Cups of Tea." Questions have been raised about how the Central Asia Institute spends donated money. The institute, located in Birdsman (ph), Montana, built schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
On Sunday, the news program "60 Minutes" also reported that some of the stories in "Three Cups of Tea" may be false. Mortenson has rejected the allegations in a statement to his supporters.
A massive wildfire burning about 70 miles west of Dallas, Texas, has more than tripled in size since yesterday to 200,000 acres, forcing evacuations. The flames are being fed by high winds. So far there are no reports of injury, but more than 100 homes have been destroyed.
A tornado touched down tonight near Bowling Green, Missouri, and a second twister was reported just south of St. Louis. Tornado watches are also up tonight in Illinois, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas.
And Soledad, watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There goes the roof off a house.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: This incredible video was shot by a man in North Carolina on Saturday. He was sitting in his truck, calmly talking on his cell phone as a powerful tornado touched down. He wasn't injured, but flying debris did damage his vehicle. When a local TV station asked him how he remain so calm, he reportedly replied, Soledad, "I was a Marine, and I love Jesus."
O'BRIEN: Yes. I'm glad to hear that. You'd hate to visit with Jesus before your time really should be up, because you got hit by a tornado. Wouldn't you? But that's me. I'm a chicken at heart. Isha, thank you.
SESAY: I'm with you.
O'BRIEN: There's lots more at the top of the hour. A year almost to the day since the Gulf disaster began. We'll take a look.