washingtonpost.com
Gulf Coast reacts to Obama speech and BP

Tony Kennon
Mayor of Orange Beach, Ala.
Thursday, June 17, 2010; 1:00 PM

Tony Kennon, mayor of Orange Beach, Ala., was online Thursday, June 17, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his reaction to President Obama's speech on the gulf oil spill and the cleanup, and today's Capitol Hill hearings with BP executives.

Obama visited the state Monday to view first-hand the effects of the oil leak which has spread to some 30 miles of beach and devastated a normally popular vacation spot. After the oil spill, "the light switch turned off and the cancellations started,' Kennon told The Wall Street Journal.

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Tony Kennon: I appreciate that the media has given us a voice. In this situation without you guys I don't know if I would be getting my phone calls returned. Look forward to talking with you, fire away.

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Washington, D.C.: Are you listening to the hearings on Capitol Hill? If so, what is your reaction? And did you listen to the BP execs yesterday after their meeting with President Obama? Reaction to his "small people" comment please?

Tony Kennon: First off, I haven't had time to pay attention the hearings and to be quite honest with you, Capitol doesn't need to lose focus on what's important and that is two-fold: fighting the oil offshore and making us whole financially as stated by Mr. Suttles and Mr. Hayward (of BP).

My quote on that has been, "He can call me small, he can call me a midget, he can call me a tiny dancer, I don't care, just write the check and get it in our pockets."

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Tourism: Hi, thanks for taking questions and comments. I just want to note that I was in the Gulf region this past weekend, and everything was fine. The seafood was tasty (and came from the gulf), the sites looked good, the only problem was that it was hot! I hope people start to realize that there's still a ton of safe places to go and things to do on the coast.

Tony Kennon: I think that's exactly right. We've only had one week since the incident where we actually had oil on our beaches and that was this past week. So the perception that our beaches are totally shut down is false. But there are going to be times when oil will be in the water, one the beach and can be a problem. But it's intermittent in nature.

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Tony Kennon: I want to paint a fair picture because I don't want anyone to be disappointed when they get here. The perception is that Alabama and the panhandle Florida looks like the marshes of Louisiana or the big black goop that was involved with the Exxon Valdez. That's just not the case.

This past weekend we had a mixture of tar balls on the beach and oily film and some residue with the consistency of chocolate moose. But this was cleaned up in a 24-hour period.

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Huntsville, Ala.: Mayor Kennon, I'm a former resident of Magnolia Springs, attending a conference in Orange Beach this week. The beach looks good where we are -- near the Pass -- but there is untethered boom floating around out there. I see lines of boom stretched out and nearby, to the east, boom simply coiled around like a snake, clearly not an effective barrier. Why is the boom not being tethered and stretched out? Thanks and best wishes.

Tony Kennon: The boom is always in different stages of deployment and that sounds like it was in one of the protective because the boom doesn't hold up well to rough seas. And as we site oil or there is an imminent threat, we will deploy the boom into a more effective position.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Do you believe BP should compensate people for economic loss due to their losses in tourism, fishing, etc., and, if so, how may that be accomplished?

Tony Kennon: Absolutely. The difficulty is what we consider adequate and fair compensation vs. what BP considers adequate and fair compensation. At this time we're trying pt work through these differences but in my opinion BP is not moving at the speed that they should be. But it's absolutely critical that our tourist industry, because of the nature of the way the business works, we have to have an immediate infusion of cash.

Our tourism industry generates its annual revenue in about 14 weeks out of the year. If we lose a week, those revenues are never made up.

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Other fixes: I am glad BP is going to put $20 billion in but I was wondering what has happened to all the solutions out there to cap this thing? Weeks ago, I saw James Cameron on TV with his ideas and there were a host of others. So there is no solution until the relief wells?

Tony Kennon: I've got to believe with being able to put a man on the moon somebody in this world has got to have a solution. But unfortunately that's out of my control. I am more upset that the focus has not been on containing the oil at the site of the well head on the surface, keeping it away from our coastline, if they have realized that they will not be able to cap the well any time soon.

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Tallahassee, Fla.: Why does the president keep talking about the future? Why doesn't he talk about what's happening right now? Is he this disconnected with reality or just doesn't get it?

Tony Kennon: I think that is a great question and I think you've answered your own question. Right now I could not care less about a clean energy bill while we're trying to figure out how to pay our bills.

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New York: Mayor Kenyon, I hope and pray that the oil on your beaches remains a minor and intermittent problem, no impediment to tourism and no threat to the environment or your constituents health. (Truly, I do; my parents live on the Florida Gulf Coast.)

But could you explain the basis for your confidence? And is there anything further you think should be done to prevent the worst case scenario from occurring?

Tony Kennon: That goes back to my constant complaint that there has been no leadership, no pit-bull mentality, like George Patton or Gen. Schwarzkopf would demonstrate, in declaring war and making sure the battle is won offshore and that the oil should've never reached our beaches. That's what angers me more than anything.

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Santa Barbara, CA: What's your feeling on the $20 billion fund that BP has set up? Do you feel like it was a "shakedown"?

Tony Kennon: I personally requested an escrow fund of 1$2-15 billion two weeks ago to Mr. Suttles and to several VPs of BP and I think they thought I was joking. My experience with BP has been observing a massive PR machine and I have no confidence that they will be around for the long haul. Twenty billion in the bank gives me a greater comfort level that our folks are going to be taken care of; however, the thought that the federal government will distribute this money is a scary thought. I suggested that the money go to the governors of the states involved and they would set up a program to distribute it to those in need because I believe local government can identify those needs better than any massive federal bureaucracy.

I want to give the president credit here for pursuing that escrow account.

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Alexandria, VA: I have heard that in order for the fishermen to get paid for their losses, they have to show past IRS documents, but that most never file with the IRS, and therefore don't pay taxes. If this is true, how do you expect BP to pay people? Seems ripe for cheating.

Tony Kennon: You're exactly right. If you didn't pay taxes you're out of luck. I have to pay my taxes. I certainly don't like paying my taxes but everybody should play by the same rules.

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Bethesda, MD: Mr Kennon - First, this question in no way should be taken as a defense of BP or to minimize the disaster & tragedy of what's happening on the Gulf coast. But...

Is this really the country's worst environmental disaster? I would think the dust storms (resulting in the Dust Bowl) in the 1930's can be considered worse than the oil spill. Do you agree?

Tony Kennon: I would not argue your point. The dust storms were a catastrophe of huge proportions but when you're living through one it seems and feels to be the biggest. The variable here that concerns me the most for an ecologic disaster that will go on for who knows how long is the use of the dispersants. I feel like they will turn out being more destructive than the oil itself.

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washingtonpost.com: This concludes our discussion with Mayor Tony Kennon.

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