WASHINGTON, May 24, 2010— -- As thick oil flows into the sensitive marshes of the Louisiana coast, Gov. Bobby Jindal called on the White House and BP today to either stop the oil spill or get out of his way.
Jindal is still waiting for the federal government to provide millions of feet in boom and to approve an emergency permit for a state plan to dredge and build new barrier islands to keep the oil from reaching the marshes and wetlands.
Jindal is so desperate for the islands, he's said he'll build them even if it sends him to jail.
"We've been frustrated with the disjointed effort to date that has too often meant too little, too late for the oil hitting our coast," Jindal said.
The oil has already hit more than 65 miles of shoreline, and the slick is now as big as Maryland and Delaware combined.
In Port Fourchon, they're already knee-deep in oil. Teams of cleanup crews have descended on the beach, sopping up and bagging countless gallons of crude. There is so much oil in the water that layers of boom designed to soak it up have to be replaced continuously.
"It's absorbed a good amount of oil," said Lt. Michelle Curry, who oversees the beach battle for the U.S. Coast Guard.
No one has to look far to see what's at stake. While beaches can be cleaned up, the marshes cannot, and marshes make up the majority of Louisiana's coastline.
Jindal warned that the state's entire shoreline could end up polluted with black sludge if he doesn't get more help, immediately.
"It is clear we don't have the resources we need to protect our coast," the Republican said. "We need more boom, more skimmers, more vacuums, more jack-up barges that are still in short supply. Let's be clear: Every day that this oil sits is one more day that more of our marsh dies."
BP Spill: Oil Reaches Deep into Marshes
Many marshes have already been lost. Jindal said that oil has seeped as far as 10 miles into some of the state's fragile marshlands, areas teeming with wildlife.
In Port Fourchon, crews will try to keep up with what can seem like a futile fight. They're fighting an enemy that grows every day, gushing far more oil than anyone can mop up.
"It is heartbreaking," said Curry, who lives in the same region that she's now trying to save. "I do hear [the community's] stories and I feel for them. And I'm just as frustrated as they are, and we're all doing our best to try to get this thing manageable and cleaned up."
Back out in the Gulf, BP has delayed its "top kill" option again, moving back any attempt until Wednesday.
In a conference call this afternoon, BP COO Doug Suttles acknowledged that the plan, which would inject heavy drilling fluid into the well to stop it, may not actually work. Though the technique has been successful before, it has never been used at the 5,000-foot depth of the current leak.
BP CEO Tony Hayward traveled to the coastline for the first time in a week today, seeing firsthand the damage that the oil is already causing.
"I feel very sorry for all this," he said, looking down at the thick brown oil from the vantage of a helicopter.
On the ground at Fourchon beach, Hayward saw the hazmat teams struggling to clean up.
"I'm absolutely devastated, something I never wanted to see," he said. "Something we fought really hard not to happen."
He admitted that the oil has now caused a "major environmental issue," backtracking on his claims in recent weeks that he thought the environmental damage would be modest.
Many along the coast angrily blame Hayward, holding him responsible for the devastation. Today, he acknowledged that frustration and said he shares in it.
"We can't change the past, but we can do everything in our power to make the future better, and that's what we're going to do."
White House Promises to Hold BP Accountable
In Washington, the White House attempted to push one message today -- that the administration is on the case. The administration has dispatched cabinet secretaries to the Gulf, released a photograph of President Obama on the phone with Gulf Coast governors, and even brought Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen to the daily briefing at the White House today.
"We are going to stay on this and stay on BP until this gets done and this gets done the right way," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
But the White House is walking a fine -- and sometimes contradictory -- line.
In recent days, even some of President Obama's strongest supporters have expressed concern about whether he has shown a lack of leadership in plugging the leaking hole.
On ABC's "This Week" Sunday, Democratic operative Donna Brazile said, "One of the problems I have with the administration is that they're not tough enough."
Democratic consultant James Carville echoed that sentiment, saying on CNN, "They're risking everything by this 'Go along with BP's strategy' they have that seems, like, lackadaisical on this."
On Sunday, the administration seemingly threatened to commandeer BP's operation at the bottom of the sea.
"If we find that they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, we'll push them out of the way appropriately," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.
But "pushing" BP out of the way is not the position of Allen, the man in charge of the federal response.
Allen said today that it makes no sense to get rid of BP's expertise, equipment and personnel, and said other oil companies he's checked with would be taking the same steps.
"To push BP out of the way, it would raise a question: Replace them with what?" said Allen.
He also responded to Jindal's complaints, saying that boom is being distributed according to continency plans that each Gulf Coast state signed. The governor's plan for new barrier islands are being evaluated, he said, but after approval they could take up to nine months to construct.