White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was joined at the briefing by the national response director for the oil spill, US Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen, and White House environmental czar Carole Browner.
TAPPER: A couple of questions. First of all, if the EPA — and maybe this is a question for Ms. Browner — but if the EPA says to BP, "We don't want you using this dispersant. We think it's too toxic," and BP says, "OK, but we don't care. We're going to do what we want to do anyway," then what avenue does the federal government have to — to — to challenge that?
ALLEN: You want to do the first part, I'll do the second?
BROWNER: Why don't you do the first part?
ALLEN: OK. If we want BP to do something, even if it appears they do not want to do it, they are issued an administrative order by the federal on-scene coordinator that has the effect of law.
TAPPER: But they're not doing it, right?
BROWNER: Well, there's a series of meetings going on. They started last night. Lisa Jackson is in the area, and there will be a press advisory or, I guess, a press conference later today at — what time? Do you know…
GIBBS: I think it is…
BROWNER: I want to say 4:30 or 4:45 Gulf Coast time. And so they're — they're — they're trying to understand, are there alternatives available? How rapidly can they be made available? Are they, in fact, less toxic? It's just a number of issues that have to be worked through. But as the admiral says, there is a way to stop them if that's where this discussion ends.
TAPPER: Admiral Allen, the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, has said that, on May 2nd, he requested 3 million feet of absorbent boom, 5 million feet of hard boom, 30 jack-up barges, and so far all they've gotten is less than 800,000 feet of boom. In addition, he said a couple of weeks ago he asked the Army Corps of Engineers to approve an emergency plan to — to set up barriers at islands, and they're still waiting to hear. He seemed very, very frustrated that — that the federal government was not being responsive to the requests that he had specifically made.
ALLEN: I'd like to divide that in two parts, the boom and the barrier island, if I could. Regarding — by the way, the last couple of days, I've been talking to Governor Jindal every day, trying to fill him in on where we're going and what the status of operations is.
Regarding boom, our baseline that we started from, from booming decisions has to deal with those area contingency plans that we explained earlier. Within those plans, they identify the most sensitive resources that need to be protected within a particular geographical area.
And this is based on consultation with the people who are actually responsible for the resources, the Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife, NOAA, and so forth.
Those plans pre-existed the spill. So what we have done is we've said we want everybody to go back and validate their area contingency plans, and we're going to source the first boom we've got available to cover those areas.
And beginning — since we didn't know where the spill was going to go when it started — and it's no longer a monolithic spill. It's omni-directional. It's in patches, huge circumference. We've got tar balls. Some places we've got oil actually coming ashore around southern Louisiana.
So we have actually sourced boom for a very wide area to meet the minimum requirements of the area contingency plan, sensitive areas. If more oil is coming, you identify extra requirements, then we are trying to fill those, but we thought the most equitable way to do it would be to use the plans that the states were part of approving as a baseline distribution of boom, and then move beyond that based on the justification and requirements where the oil is coming ashore.
So we are doing that. We're taking care of the area contingency plan first and additional requests that are coming in, but we are — we are responding to those.
TAPPER: How much boom do you have to give out?
ALLEN: I don't have — we put out a daily boom report every day. But I think we are well over 2 million feet deployed. And we have a warehousing — virtual warehouse set up in Louisiana. We distribute to the entire area. One things we — when we started out, everybody was ordering their own boom, and we actually had these different areas competing against each other and even bidding up the price, in some cases, so we've actually gone to a centralized distribution center for the entire coast that's coordinated in conjunction with the area command in Robert, Louisiana. And that's how we're — and we can give you the details.
TAPPER: Can you just answer my question about the Army Corps of Engineers?
ALLEN: Yes. I'm going to give you my characterization of the Army side, and I don't want to get in too much detail, because it's a process they own. The state has applied for a permit that would take a look at establishing a system of barrier islands and berm structures, one to the east of the Mississippi River on the Chandeleur Islands or Breton Sound, and the other one basically from around Grand Isle over to the west — to the east towards the Mississippi River.
The Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating that right now. They're looking at the cost and the schedule, the feasibility, the engineering issues associated with it, where the sediments would come from. You have to go get them from someplace to deposit them there.
What are the implications of where you remove the sediments from? How high do you have to build the berms if you were going to build them? And what is the ecological impact associated with that? They have not finished that review.
But what I promised Governor Jindal personally in a conversation is we would start looking at it now so we wouldn't have to wait for the Corps of Engineers (inaudible) all right, here, Coast Guard, what do you think about it? We're looking at it in parallel with them.
We — we need to understand, though, that building a set of barrier islands and berms that large is going to take a very, very long time, even by the state's own estimate, six to nine months in some cases, and a significant amount of resources associated with that that might be applied elsewhere. So we're looking at everything having to do with the proposal. I've been in touch frequently with Governor Jindal. And we're trying to drive to a decision that we can announce as soon as we can.
TAPPER: A lot of people have been saying that the administration has not been tough enough on BP. Two examples, the fact that the EPA order was ignored…
GIBBS: But no, no, no. But understand — just go back and read the letter. There was a time period I think of 72 hours to go through this — these guys — they're meeting — they were meeting late last night and will I believe in about — my watch is set about five minutes fast, so in about 10 minutes (
EPA) Administrator Jackson — what's that?
TAPPER: It was also the live feed that didn't come until 10 days until after you guys initially requested it. Obviously, not everything you've asked for they've done. And what do you say to — when even supporters of the president say that you guys have not been tough enough on BP?
GIBBS: Well, again, Admiral Allen can tell this story of — or he told the story of — of speaking with the CEO of BP, if he believes something needs to happen and that that behavior has changed. And we'll continue to do that.
ALLEN: Maybe a good example — we've got a group set up called the floor eight technical group (ph). There's been a lot of issues about 1,000, 5,000 barrels. Frankly, from the start, we responded much higher than that, so it wasn't consequential to the — the response. It is going to be very consequential to the total amount of oil we think is out there, in terms of natural resources, damage, damage assessments, and mitigation.
For that reason, we've stood up a team. It's headed by Marcia McNutt, who's head of the U.S. Geological Survey. And they are putting together the best estimate from satellite imagery, over- flights, looking at the video imagery that's available from BP, and it's only two dimensional.
We're trying to actually figure out how many frames per second we're actually looking at for — so we can try to establish the density of the flow at any one time and differentiate gases from the other hydrocarbons. That's all being worked right now.
And what we're going to come up with — it'll probably be a range with some assumptions attached to it of what we believe to be the best government estimate, not only the flow rate, but the total amount of oil that's been released to date.
TAPPER: Have you been tough enough with BP?
ALLEN: When we — when we need information from that group, we've asked for it, and they've delivered.