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Activists Call for 'Public Outcry' over Oil Disaster
VENICE, Louisiana - On the 50th day since the beginning of the massive oil disaster, advocacy group MoveOn says it will hold nationwide vigils Tuesday night to call for stepped-up efforts to stop the spill.
The group called for a "major public outcry" and created a section on its website for people to search for vigils in their area by typing in their ZIP codes.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration -- reacting to criticism that it has not been aggressive enough -- continued to work on turning that perception.
Obama delivered a blunt defense of his administration's response to the spill, telling NBC's "Today" show that he has held meetings with experts and has learned "whose ass to kick."
"I don't sit around talking to experts because this is a college seminar," the president said in an interview set to air Tuesday. "We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick."
The president also is endorsing plans to lift the cap on damages that oil companies must pay for a spill, currently set at $75 million.
On Tuesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called for a sweeping overhaul of the nation's corporate liability laws in the wake of the oil disaster, arguing that "no one's life should become an asterisk in somebody's cost-benefit analysis."
The brother of one of the 11 workers killed in the explosion on the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon blasted BP chief Tony Hayward on Tuesday.
Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Christopher Jones highlighted Hayward's recent remark that he wants his "life back."
"Mr. Hayward, I want my brother's life back," Jones said. "We will never get [his] life back."
With losses mounting among hoteliers, fishermen and others whose livelihoods have been curtailed by the spill, frustration is "rapidly escalating" along the Gulf Coast, said Kelby Linn, a real estate agent and Chamber of Commerce official on Alabama's Dauphin Island.
Linn told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee Monday that the amount of money BP has paid local residents for their losses has typically been about $5,000, a sum he dismissed as "a marketing ploy." Businesses such as his vacation rental company are borrowing money to pay their overhead costs, which he called "the only way we're going to keep our business alive."
"We do not feel that BP is going to be stepping up to the plate," he said.
Workers scraped oil off beaches and skimmed it out of waterways from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, but the impact of the Gulf oil disaster will be felt for years, authorities said.
Initial water samples have confirmed low concentrations of subsea oil from the ruptured wellhead, said Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"We suspected that, but it's good to have confirmation," Lubchenco said at a news conference Tuesday.
Restoring wetlands and wildlife habitats along the Gulf Coast will take far beyond the time needed to cap the ruptured undersea well at the heart of the disaster, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the head of the federal government's response effort, told reporters Monday at the White House.
"Dealing with the oil spill on the surface is going to go on for a couple of months. After that it'll be taken care of," Allen said. "Long-term issues of restoring the environment and the habitats and stuff will be years."
Workers involved in the cleanup effort face possible long-term health hazards without proper protective gear, and the region's environment may retain hazardous chemicals left behind by the spill, witnesses told members of Congress during a hearing in Louisiana.
Dead wildlife has been reported in the region, and Allen said Monday that patches of shoreline totaling roughly 120 miles long have been affected by the spill. The spill has broken up into a series of pools, ranging from 20 to 100 yards to several miles long.
Oil company BP has managed to place a loose-fitting cap over the ruptured well, 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf and about 40 miles off Louisiana.
BP has collected about 1.8 million gallons of oil from the ruptured well in the last four days, the company said Tuesday.
BP kept 621,000 gallons of oil from flowing into the Gulf in the past 24 hours, Allen said Tuesday.
He said the collection levels have "climbed steadily" since the containment cap became operational and they are expected to continue to grow in the next few weeks.
The gusher won't be completely shut down until BP completes drilling a relief well, a process that is expected to last until August.
Under federal law, BP -- which owns the damaged well at the heart of the catastrophe -- is responsible for paying for the cleanup. Obama warned the company against "nickel-and-diming" communities affected by the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
But for many in the area, what had spilled already has made their future bleak.
"My concern is after everything is cleaned up, if they can clean it all up, and they leave, what is our business going to be like?" asked Dudley Gaspard, owner of the Sand Dollar Marina and Hotel on hard-hit Grand Isle, Louisiana. "Oil's coming in pretty heavy, into the marsh area now, and we're not sure -- we're kind of in the dark."