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Tropical Storm Threatens Oil Recovery Effort; Mental Health Crisis on Gulf Coast?

Aired June 28, 2010 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Live in Louisiana on day 70 of this disaster.

It's our sixth week here in Louisiana. The last thing they need down here right now is it a bad storm. Yet, take a look, Tropical Storm Alex now in the Gulf. The question tonight, will it put the cleanup and well-capping work in jeopardy? Will it deepen the nightmare?

Report are parts of the sea already too rough for skimming. Chad Myers tonight tracking Alex joins us shortly.

But we begin, as we always do, "Keeping Them Honest": new evidence, new outrage that BP still seems to be playing number games and word games, instead of being open and honest about the spill.

In an interview with "The Times Picayune," BP's Doug Suttles -- that's chief operating officer Doug Suttles -- said that knowing how much oil is gushing out of this well is irrelevant. BP never considered flow rate important, says the headline.

His exact words were -- quote -- "The flow rate has never impacted the response." He says it's -- quote -- "extraordinary imprecise and we took a view very early on that we didn't think you could do it," meaning measure the flow rate, "and we didn't think it was relevant either."

He says BP had always planned to overreact -- his word -- to the spill, planning for a worst-case scenario. Well, first of all, if that is true, how come they're still scrambling to get containment vessels here and boom and skimmers and just about everything else?

But to continue to claim on the one hand that it's just too hard to estimate the oil, and, besides, it's irrelevant, and then on the other hand to have pushed a stunningly low estimate of 1,000 barrels spilling, as BP did for weeks after the disaster, well, that does not pass the smell test.

And it's not just me saying that they didn't truly plan for a worst-case scenario. It's now the U.S. government. As "The Picayune" pointed out, on June 11, the Coast Guard Rear Admiral James Watson concluded that BP's response plan was based on unrealistically low flow rates.

And he wrote to Doug Suttles the following. He said -- and I quote -- I'm concerned that your current plans do not provide for maximum mobilization of resources to provide the needed collection capacity, with revised -- consistent with revised flow estimates."

That was Admiral Watson June 11 saying they hadn't planned well enough to capture enough oil. But what is truly stunning is Doug Suttles' response just two days later to the Coast Guard. He wrote back saying -- quote -- "We will continue to adapt our plans as more is learned about the flow rate from the well."

So, they're going to adapt their plans as more is learned about the flow rate. But then he says the flow rate is irrelevant. Doesn't that seem a complete contradiction?

On June 13, he tells the United States government the flow rate matters. Twelve days later, he tells "The Times Picayune" and the public they don't matter, it's irrelevant.

Well, Mr. Suttles, who won't come on this program, by the way, though we invite him every day, the truth is not irrelevant. It may be hard to find. It may be hard to measure, but it matters. It matters because your company will be fined based on the flow rate. It matters because the public has a right to know what your company has done.

It matters because scientists will be studying the impact of oil on animals for years here. And it matters because an entire way of life -- for oystermen, and shrimpers, fishermen and others, an entire way of life is threatened.

Why is BP now determining what matters in this disaster? Why are they still telling the people here what is relevant information? BP has been trying to control information from here from day one. They don't come on the broadcast, as we pointed out. We invite them every night. That's their right.

Now they have sent their own employees, though, to start reporting on the spill. On their Web site, the BP so-called reporters in the Gulf have been portraying a very different version of what's happening here.

Here's a report from BP, Tom -- a guy named Tom Seslar in Houma, Louisiana, where the fishing industry is devastated. But, according to the reporter, he writes -- quote -- "Much of the region's other businesses, particularly the hotels, have been prospering, because so many people have come here from BP and other oil emergency response teams."

That was -- BP's Paula Kolmar, another of their so-called reporters here, on the 26th of May, reports about looking for tar balls on Pensacola Beach and finding none. Well, let me tell you, she could have gone on that date have gone to Pass a Loutre in Louisiana, where the oil was already smothering the marshes, and no one was cleaning it up.

BP's so-called reporter, Tom Seslar, had a BP I.D. and no problem apparently getting past security to get on to the beach, something other actual reporters here were prevented from.

Here's how he described what he saw when he got on the beach. He said -- quote -- "It," meaning the beach, "was closed, so that a mighty BP-led force could continue preparing it and be ready to defend it against any oil that might ride in with the white-capped waves crashing ashore from the Gulf" a mighty BP-led force, hard-hitting BP- written reports from the disaster zone.

That is apparently relevant to BP, but determining how much oil is gushing and spreading and coming ashore, that apparently is not.

I talked about it a moments ago with political contributor James Carville and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser. We spoke earlier.


COOPER: James, what do you make of Doug Suttles now coming out and saying, after all this time, that the flow rate is irrelevant, that it doesn't matter to the effort or overall how much oil is pouring out of there every single day?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: How do I say this delicately? Let me think. He's lying. OK? He's lying, lying, lying. The oil -- the statute says that, if they show gross negligence, that it could be up to a $4,000-a-barrel fine.


COOPER: Right.


COOPER: If they're ruled as grossly negligent...

CARVILLE: And I'm the worst lawyer in the world. I think I could take on the BP legal team and fine them grossly negligent. OK? This is not going to be a real hard case, based on what we know.

So, $4,000 -- barrels a day. They started out saying that it was 1,000. They're now going to put new instruments. They're going to find out that it's 80,000 to 100,000. So, 80,000 times $4,000, what, I don't know, what is it, $32 million a day?

COOPER: And Doug Suttles, in his own e-mail and a letter to the Coast Guard, because the Coast Guard recently, early June, said, look, your response isn't enough, based on the flow rate. Doug Suttles said we will change our response as we learn more about the flow rate.

So, even in his communication to the Coast Guard, he acknowledged that it is important to know. And, yet, publicly, he's saying it's irrelevant. BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: How long are we going to let them tell us what they're going to do? When is the government going to say, get out the way, we are going to measure it, and are we going to put our own experts down there? Why are we letting BP still run the show?


CARVILLE: In this morning's paper, in the New Orleans paper, in "The Times Picayune," there's a story saying that the government wants them to put more instruments down there, so they can better measure.

COOPER: Right. They're going to new sensors in the new containment.

CARVILLE: Why don't we just have someone go down and put the sensors and send them the bill?

Because they're -- Mr. Suttles is lying. OK? He is just out- and-out, bald-faced lie. All of the people that are working for BP, all your P.R. people, everybody out there spinning this, he's lying. You know it. I know it. The world knows it.

Why don't the government just go down, put the sensors, tell us what the flow rate is, charge them $4,000 a barrel for everything that goes out, and let's get on with our business?

COOPER: What's so bizarre to me is that, for the first several weeks, the government was going along with BP, saying, in essence, well, look, we're planning for a worst-case scenario, so it doesn't matter exactly to know the exact number.

But, I mean, if you're fighting a fire, you need to know how big the fire is.

NUNGESSER: Well, we keep seeing it rolling ashore day after day. We have got more coming ashore than we're cleaning up.

So, it definitely matters. It matters to the wildlife. It matters to the wetlands. It matters to the way of life in Louisiana. We have got to know what we're up against.

And the dispersants are keeping it below the surface, so we don't know, because it's coming ashore under the surface and making it impossible to fight.

CARVILLE: Every time that we have gotten a figure, it's been wrong, and it's been wrong on the downside.

My own personal view -- and I don't...


COOPER: Not just the downside. We're talking from 1,000 barrels a day -- that's what they said initially -- to now 65,000.


CARVILLE: But we know we're going to 80,000 to 100,000, that, as soon as they put the instruments, everybody that knows the scientific team knows that they're not comfortable with this. There are people on there that know this.

The guy from Purdue took one look at it and said it was 75,000 barrels...


NUNGESSER: Absolutely.


COOPER: After watching a 30-second video.


CARVILLE: After watching a 30-second video.


CARVILLE: Everybody knows the 35,000 to 60,000 is just B.S. No one believes that figure. I don't believe it. Nobody in the scientific community believes it.

And the government is now asking them to put the monitors on that. Just go put the monitors on that. Hire a third-party contractor. But BP has every interest in not doing this, and we have got to understand that.


And, all along, BP -- it was really only a few weeks ago that the Coast Guard insisted that monitors be put down, that sensors actually be placed for the first time.


COOPER: We went for a month-and-a half without any sensors actually being placed down there.

NUNGESSER: And the dispersants, the same thing. Quit using them. How much are you using? And we get no answers, and we allow it to go on. It's absurd that we put up with this.

COOPER: We should obviously point out that we asked BP yet again to come on the program to talk about this. They declined.


COOPER: But what is interesting is they have actually now sent out two of their own -- quote, unquote -- "reporters" to kind of bring back stories for a BP blog. And the stories they come up with, one, they had problems finding the oil.

One was about searching for tar balls, and the reporter was ultimately not able to find them. They had heard there were tar balls in Pensacola. They went and found happy people on beaches. NUNGESSER: Well, they can go to Pensacola and find tar balls. If they want to find 4,000 acres of thick oil destroying wildlife, eating up the marsh, and in the marsh, where everything is dead, come to Plaquemines Parish, because it's destroying our way of life on a daily basis.

CARVILLE: We went, you and I, Anderson, and the governor, we all went down, what, five -- must have been five weeks ago, found all the oil we wanted to find.

NUNGESSER: We are sucking it up daily, and it keeps coming back.

COOPER: Yes. That article was written on May 26, that they couldn't find the oil, I think was the exact date.


COOPER: We are going to have more with James and Billy just ahead. They were just getting started.

Let us know what you think. The live chat is running at

A month ago, the state of Louisiana asked BP to pay for mental health treatment. Ten million dollars is what they asked for. A month later, they're still waiting. What is BP doing about it? Well, they did send a letter. We will read you the letter. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

And later: Chad Myers tracking the storm now heading across the Gulf.


COOPER: Well, today, the state of Louisiana asked BP for $10 million for six months' work -- worth of mental health services for people affected by the spill.

` Last week, we saw a suicide of a man by the name of Allen Kruse, who was a fishing boat captain in Alabama. He had working for BP for two weeks. His charter fishing boat business was basically bust. He had now given over his vessel to work in the cleanup. It's -- obviously, there's no way to know exactly what -- why someone takes their life.

But his friends said this was the result of the spill, that a lot was weighing on his mind as a result of the spill. Again, it's impossible to put yourself in somebody's mind. But the concern here is that we're just going to see more actions like that. And certainly already mental health experts saying they are seeing an uptick in people calling, an uptick in people in distress.

And in the wake of the Exxon Valdez, people suffering depression, alcoholism and suicide attempts. So in the wake of all this, in light of all this, the state has asked for $10 million for mental health services. And actually it's a re-ask today, because they asked a month ago. And BP responded with a letter.

Tonight, we're "Keeping Them Honest."


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mental health experts in Louisiana say a crisis is brewing here, growing angst about jobs giving way to depression and maybe even suicide.

(on camera): So, you might think BP would be meeting every request to help in this area. Think again. This all started back on May 28, when the state of Louisiana asked BP for $10 million specifically to treat mental health.

(voice-over): But, on June 13, BP's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, responded not with a check, but with a letter. Suttles wrote he's had -- quote -- "spirited discussions with the state" and "looks forward to continuing the dialogue."

Exactly how is that dialogue going? We asked Louisiana's health secretary.

(on camera): Has there really been much dialogue?

ALAN LEVINE, SECRETARY, LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HOSPITALS: No. I will tell you, we're -- look, we're -- there is not time for dialogue as it relates to mental health.

When you -- we're now seeing -- the people that we have on the ground are telling us that they're seeing increased evidence of people drinking. We're seeing increased evidence of those factors that lead to depression, anxiety, stress. We have children involved. There's no time for dialogue.

KAYE (voice-over): "Keeping Them Honest," we tried to ask BP why it isn't paying the mental health cots of the spill. BP told us -- quote -- "We have received a request for funding around mental health programs." We are discussing the request with several stakeholder groups."

(on camera): In the early days of the catastrophe, Levine says the state put $1 million of BP money toward mental health treatment. But, he says, they have already treated 2,000 people, and that money is almost gone.

(voice-over): So, today, Levine fired off another letter to BP's Suttles, requesting again $10 million to support six months' worth of outreach programs, including medications and counseling.

(on camera): Does it bother you that now you have had to go back to BP and said, hey, look, we really need this money; we're not kidding?

LEVINE: Well, that's -- you know, that's one of the reasons why we have put a deadline on the letter. If you notice the last sentence, we said, we need an answer by next week. There's no more time to talk about this.

KAYE (voice-over): You don't have to tell that to the doctors here at Saint Bernard Project for Health and Wellness. They can't keep up with patient demand. They get as many as 10 calls a week from people traumatized by the spill, leading to a two-month wait for an appointment here. More money would mean they could hire more doctors and treat more patients.

(on camera): Ideally, how much money do you need?


KAYE: Do you think they are responsible and should pay to help people get the treatment that they need here?

LEVINE: Yes, absolutely, without any doubt.

KAYE (voice-over): Psychiatrist Chuck Coleman couldn't agree more.

DR. CHUCK COLEMAN, PSYCHIATRIST: I would hope that BP would help pay for this and see that the likelihood of this oil spill causing permanent psychiatric disability could be diminished by taking care of mental health issues early on.

KAYE: Secretary Levine says not treating mental health early on in a catastrophe can make it more expensive to treat later. And if BP doesn't pay, he says, you will in Louisiana, because the state may be forced to raise taxes to pay for it.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New Orleans.


COOPER: A lot of people suffering here. We're going to be following the story closely, seeing if BP delivers with more than those spirited discussions that Doug Suttles mentioned a month ago.

We're "Keeping Them Honest."

More now of our conversation with Billy Nungesser and James Carville.


COOPER: The state of Louisiana has asked BP to pay for $10 million worth of mental health surveys and counselling for people. BP has said no. Do you think BP should pony up money for mental health services?

NUNGESSER: Absolutely. We have got serious problems.

Anderson, every time someone goes on TV and says it's not a big problem or we're going to worry about the beaches, the fishermen, the families that have been devastated, it's just another blow to them. And we're seeing it really affect these lives.

And we have got a lot of churches in the parish working with the people. But it's taken its toll on -- not -- no end in sight. And it really don't seem like we're fighting this war on all fronts. And not to have that full 100 percent support, pulling out all stops, is devastating in itself to the people.

COOPER: A fisherman in Alabama committed suicide last week. We don't know exactly what was going through his mind. You never can know this, though his friends said that the oil spill was weighing heavily on him.

Mental health services, do you think they're important?

CARVILLE: Well, sure, of course. You can go to Alaska. We have a (INAUDIBLE) all right? And Exxon just walked away from those poor people. They never cleaned that stuff up. And the mental health problems they have up there are profound.

COOPER: Right. Experts say they have seen increased suicides, alcoholism, depression.


CARVILLE: And you have people who have been doing this all their lives, been doing it for fourth, fifth generation. I talked to the sheriff in Saint Bernard Parish. He said it's -- people that he knows that are just in a -- one guy said all he's going to do is eat and wait to die. And that's exactly what he said.

NUNGESSER: Come to church on Sunday morning in Plaquemines Parish and come down and see these people. And...

COOPER: What kind of calls do you get? What kind of stories do you hear?

NUNGESSER: I get four or five calls a night with people not knowing how to make ends meet. When is it going to end? Are they ever going to get their way of life back? I mean, women, mothers in tears. And it's hard. It's hard. It's difficult for me.

And you don't know what to tell them. You don't know when it's going to be back.

CARVILLE: President Clinton was with Wolf in South Africa, talking about there are 20,000 Vietnamese here, I mean, people that uprooted their lives, came here, some of the hardest-working people in the country.

COOPER: What do you say to people?


NUNGESSER: Well, we hired our own interpreter for the Vietnamese and Cambodian-speaking. BP did get an interpreter. But they didn't feel comfortable. So, we hired our own in the parish today and started meeting with them, because it's fearful enough, those that speak their language, but these poor people don't have a clue. They don't know what's coming. And this is all they know.

COOPER: And what do you tell people, the mothers, the wives, the fisherman who call you up? What do you...

NUNGESSER: You don't know what to tell them anymore. You are hoping BP makes them whole. You are hoping we stop the oil. We hope we get our way of life back.

COOPER: Because I think people around the country who are watching this think, oh, well, look, BP's going to pay these people a lot of money, and -- or is going to make them whole. But even if that may happen down the road, people still need to pay their bills now.

NUNGESSER: Week to week, they're holding on. And we have got a lot of good charity groups down there giving out food. And it's tough for them.

COOPER: People, actually, they are giving out food?

NUNGESSER: We're giving out -- today, we had the general manager of the Hornets and the Plaquemines Business Association give out trailer loads, feed the children. And we ran out of food, four trailer loads.

And you can see it's wearing on people.


CARVILLE: And one of the things -- and Billy can attest to this -- it's not just -- it's really not just earning a living. It's a way of life. It's an entire culture.

And if you went in there and you gave them the money they lost, it wouldn't matter. If they don't have their culture, if they don't have their way of life, if they don't raise their kids like that, if they don't pass this on, if they have to move from there, and somebody may look at it and say, oh, well, look at that. It's humid out there and it's marshland, or they have got storms that come.

People love that land. They love what they do. Their fathers, their grandfathers, their great-grandfathers and mothers did the same thing. And so you cut them a check, you haven't done anything. These people, this is their lives. This is what they do. They love that. That's what people don't understand about life here in South Louisiana. We don't want to move.

Yes, they are going to have to take a check, but they don't want a check. They want their life. They want to earn the living that they do.

COOPER: James Carville, Billy Nungesser, thanks.

NUNGESSER: Thank you.


COOPER: Well, when we come back, Chris Lawrence uncovers some -- some welcome news for people affected by the drilling moratorium, money from Washington that even the man in charge of the money didn't know about until today -- details on that.

And the latest on Tropical Storm Alex, already in the Gulf, potentially a threat to the cleanup and capping operations. Chad Myers is following it for us. We will talk to him in a minute.


COOPER: Well, there are already a lot of people in the Gulf who are out of work, and not just directly because of the spill. The government's six-month ban on deepwater drilling has already taken a toll here.

While the Obama administration appeals a decision to lift the ban., workers are left in limbo and unemployed. They say they should be compensated for their losses. The question is, will they?

Chris Lawrence did some digging today. He found out that even the man overseeing all the payouts, Kenneth Feinberg, is still kind of learning how the whole payout plan is going to work.

Take a look.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First, the oil spill itself took out the fishermen and restaurant owners. But BP set up a $20 billion fund to cover their damages.

President Obama's six-month ban shut down deepwater drilling and BP set aside another $100 million to pay the workers on those oil rigs. But the truckers, loaders, caterers and cleaners that supported those shutdown rigs, they had nothing except rising anger at Washington over what the ban has done to them. Take Anthony Thibodeaux.

(on camera): How's the moratorium affecting you?

ANTHONY THIBODEAUX, TRUCK LOADER: I basically have no job. I'm normally checking in eight, 10, 12 trucks a day, loading up two boats to go offshore to an oil rig. I did none. None. No boats out.

I feel like a dead man walking. I know I'm just waiting for the ax to fall because it's got to. That company cannot survive holding on to guys like me. They can't.

LAWRENCE: Is this just affecting people who live right along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana?

THIBODEAUX: No, no. I live in Atlanta. I drive to work every week. The riggers and the crane operators and stuff like that come from Mississippi. You know? There's some from Alabama. LAWRENCE (voice-over): This weekend we took their concerns to Ken Feinberg.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are we supposed to feed our families, pay our bills, get to work?

KENNETH FEINBERG, INDEPENDENT ADMINISTRATOR, GULF SPILL INDEPENDENT CLAIMS FUND: I understand that you only want what you're entitled to as an unfortunate victim of this spill.

LAWRENCE: The man President Obama appointed to take charge of the claims process to see if their damages can be covered.

(on camera): Will you be handling any claims at all for people whose businesses have been affected by the moratorium?

FEINBERG: Yes. I now have discovered -- I didn't realize this until yesterday -- but the moratorium claims will fall under my jurisdiction.

LAWRENCE: That's a huge development. And we didn't know that before because a --

FEINBERG: I didn't either. I just learned yesterday that the administration and BP have agreed that the moratorium claims will fall under my jurisdiction.


COOPER: I find this stunning. I mean, I had no idea of this. Clearly, he didn't know about this.

But, just to be clear, when he says the moratorium claims, that means the claims not by the oil rig workers themselves who have lost jobs because of the moratorium, but the people who support them, they can put in for claims in this $20 billion fund?

LAWRENCE: Exactly. And when I first heard it, I'm like, somebody should tell the doctor what patients he's going to be operating on. But, yes, this is the people who support the rig workers. The rig workers are covered under that $100 million. But for every...

COOPER: Although rig workers will say, look, that's not enough for...


LAWRENCE: Right. And that's probably going to have to get increased. But for every one man on the rig, you have got 10 to 15 other supporting jobs that load the supplies, that run the boat, that bring the food out to them, all these things, bring the supplies, clean the boat.

So, there are many more supporting jobs than there are rig workers. These guys were in limbo for a long time. Now what Ken Feinberg is saying is, they're going to be covered under that $20 billion. It doesn't solve all their problems, but it at least gives them some place to go now to start filing those claims.

COOPER: I find that really surprising. I didn't realize that, so interesting information.

Chris Lawrence...


COOPER: ... thanks very much.

Still ahead: our investigation into BP's relationship with the federal agency that is supposed to regulate it. Did the oil company get a free pass? Have other oil companies? We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Also ahead: the latest on the path of Tropical Storm Alex, gaining strength, expected to become a hurricane. Chad Myers is tracking the storm and its possible impact on the Gulf and oil -- oil operations coming up next.


COOPER: We told you at the top of the hour about the dangerous weather threatening the Gulf. Tropical Storm Alex gaining speed and strength, could soon become a hurricane. Chad Myers is following the storm; joins us with the latest.

Chad, what do we know?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We know it's getting big. This whole thing now almost beginning to fill up the Gulf of Mexico. Let me draw if for you here. Here's Miami, all the way back up toward New Orleans. And then here's Brownsville, Texas, the Yucatan Peninsula. This would be Cancun, back down Fort Belize.

In just the past couple hours, look at the swirl that this thing is really gathering now. It's over warm water again. Warm water is the engine for a hurricane. It's the -- it's the fuel. It's the premium unleaded that you put into a hurricane. When you get it over warm water, 87 degrees like this is here, it can really explode. And that's what we're expecting from this storm system for the next couple of days.

Right now it's only a tropical storm, but it will become a hurricane. There is no question that, as it moves up and stays in this water, it will get stronger and stronger. The forecast track, though, Anderson, is not to come up toward the oil slick. That would be devastating.

And even where it is right now, it's not a great scenario. Because where it will be spinning -- if you take a look at the winds going to be coming in here at the oil slick from the southeast, 48, 72 hours worth of wind from the same direction, that oil will move right back into the marshes of Louisiana, into Mississippi and Alabama. Even though it may be hundreds of miles away, the center will be close enough to make that big spin there in the atmosphere.

We are going to get a brand-new update. So I want you to come back to me in about 15 minutes, literally. Because all the numbers that you see from Alex, where it's going to be Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, that will change. So will some of the wind speeds. They will change for the 11 p.m. advisory, and it's usually 15 minutes early, so let's think about 12:45 coming back and where we're going to go with this thing for the next couple of days.

The big story, I still think, is what the computer models are doing. No computer model right now. And then Anderson, we haven't talked about this for, it seems, a couple of years. No computer model takes the storm and turns it toward the oil slick. That would be where all of this water, all of this oil would be pushed on land here. That would be the worst possible case.

The best possible case, let's change direction a little bit. The best possible case is this thing doesn't get any bigger, but it travels to the east and goes over Florida somewhere as a 30 mile-per- hour rainmaker. What would that do? That would shift the wind direction like this, and take the oil and blow it into the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. Allow it to sit there for a longer length of time.

And the more oil that stays out there, the more it turns into a tar ball. And it's easier to pick up the tar balls than it is to pick up the liquid oil. That would be best case. I don't see a best case or worst case. But so we get what we get. My son says, don't pitch a fit. That's what you get today at least.

COOPER: So -- so the waves are obviously going to be increasing as that wind increases in the Gulf?

MYERS: Absolutely.

COOPER: I guess that's a doubled edged sword. On the one hand, the churning actions, some hope, will have a positive impact on the oil in terms breaking it up. But in terms of bringing in that other containment vessel, they've had to hold off on that, and getting that hooked up, because you can't do that in huge waves.

MYERS: Right, and the waves will also, as you think about them propagating along here, and the winds blowing in that direction. The waves will bring the oil slick further and further into the marshes of Louisiana, back into the Chandelier Islands, back toward Gulfport, Mobile.

Now it will -- the winds will move the oil away from Florida. So what was kind of sneaking toward Panama City and Cape Sandblast, that will begin to be pushed back the other direction. Great news for the Florida beaches but certainly not great news for anybody over here in the path of that oil in the next couple of days.

COOPER: All right, Chad. We will check in with you a little bit later on in this program for that update.

First, let's check on some other stories we're following tonight. Joe Johns has a "360 Bulletin" -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, General Stanley McChrystal is calling it quits a week after he was replaced as the top military commander in Afghanistan. The Pentagon says McChrystal will retire from the military. He infuriated the White House when he and aides mocked the president and others in an interview in "Rolling Stone" magazine.

Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, the longest serving member of Congress, died today at the age of 92. Byrd was a master of Senate rules and an expert at steering federal spending to his home state of West Virginia. He first entered Congress 57 years ago.

Former vice president Dick Cheney is out of the hospital. He was admitted after what a friend says was an irregular heart rhythm. Cheney has had five heart attacks.

And political observers love wondering how long it will take our current vice president to say something he should not. This weekend, the gaffe-prone Joe Biden stopped at Kopps frozen custard shop in Wisconsin and told off the manager who had made a flip comment about cutting taxes. Take a listen.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't worry. It's on us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lower our taxes and we'll call it even.

BIDEN: Why don't you say something nice instead of being a smart (EXPLETIVE DELETED) all -- say something nice.


JOHNS: Well, Anderson, the manager says that Biden went back to him afterward and said he was just playing around. Well, at least he's not a boring vice president.

COOPER: Well, that is -- I guess that's certainly true. Joe, thanks.

Still ahead, when BP got its operating permit for the Deepwater Horizon rig from a federal agency, did it also really get a free pass? We're "Keeping Then Honest" tonight.

Plus, a major decision from the Supreme Court. It's a major victory for gun owners across the country. Jeff Toobin joins us with details, coming up.


COOPER: We'll have more on Tropical Storm Alex in a moment. Chad Myers working on a late update.

But we want to tell you about a major Supreme Court decision today. One that was handed down during the confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan. In a 5-4 decision, the conservative wing of the court declared Chicago's ban on handgun ownership unconstitutional. It's a landmark Second Amendment ruling and one that could have sweeping repercussions for the entire country.

Jeff Toobin, whose best seller, "The Nine," takes us inside the high court, joins us now.

So you say because of this ruling, virtually all bets are off when it comes to gun control in the United States? How so?

JEFF TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely, Anderson. This is an incredible ruling. And when you think in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected, the idea that the Second Amendment at all protected individuals' right to keep and bear arms was considered an almost freakish view.

As a result of the work by President Reagan's people, Edwin Meese and others, they have laid the groundwork. They have appointed the judges so that gun control is now presumptively unconstitutional in the United States.

The decision today was all state and local ordinances have to -- have to recognize that gun ownership is a fundamental American right. So it will mean many, many dozens of statutes off the books. And where it ends, I don't know. Because I assume that it will still be illegal to buy a Stinger missile and hang out by an airport. But it is by no means clear what the limit is between owning a handgun, which is now clearly legal, and owning a Stinger missile.

COOPER: Well, I mean, obviously a Stinger missile is, you know -- it's not a -- it's not a gun. But what about, I mean, assault weapons, things like that, things of which there have been bans on in the past? Is that -- is all that automatically overturned? How does this actually work?

TOOBIN: It's not automatically overturned. But I am confident that you and I will spend the rest our lives hearing about Supreme Court cases saying, "Stinger missiles, no good. Submachine guns OK. Silencers no good. Guns for felons, OK."

I mean, the implications of this are extraordinary, because what the court said was this was a fundamental right like the freedom of speech, like the freedom of the press. Children have freedom of speech. Children have freedom of the press. Does that mean children have the right to bear arms?

I mean, these are the kinds of issues that were totally off the table for decades. It was clear that the government had to the right to regulate access to handguns. But that is no longer true, and all bets are off.

COOPER: So practically, do we know -- I mean, what -- how this works? I mean, does that -- there's still gun checks that that will remain in place, right?

TOOBIN: For the time being, but they have not been tested. I mean, this is a new set of laws. This is a new understanding of how the Constitution works. So we can anticipate that all those -- like the Brady law, the gun checks law will be checked, will be challenged in court.

And it's very hard to predict how courts will interpret what the court did today, because the earlier ruling on gun control, the Heller case from two years ago. Justice Scalia's opinion, he said, well, the federal government has to -- has to recognize the right to keep and bear arms.

But this is so much broader. Justice Alito's opinion today said all state and local governments have to recognize that gun ownership is a fundamental right. And there are many, many more state and local laws about gun ownership than there are federal laws.

And look, the NRA is a very aggressive, very successful organization. They will lead challenges. Other gun groups will lead challenges. And I think anyone who predicts today that they know exactly where this is all going to end is blowing smoke. I don't think anyone does.

COOPER: I want to talk about Elena Kagan's nomination hearings. Opening day today. You know her. You're a friend of hers. How did it go for her? What are the chances she's going to be confirmed?

TOOBIN: Well, I think it was a pretty predictable day. Most Republicans, though not all of them, were pretty hostile, arguing that she was a political partisan, someone who would -- you know, who had worked in the Clinton administration, worked in the Obama administration, who couldn't put aside those views.

There were a lot of references to the period of time when she was dean of Harvard Law School, and she threw military recruiters off campus because of the university's objection to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

But the bottom line is, there are still 58 Democratic senators after Robert Byrd's death. There is no organized attempt at a filibuster. So I think the odds overwhelmingly favor her confirmation at this point. How many votes she gets, I don't know.

Tomorrow is the day -- tomorrow is the day when they have a chance to question her. But Elena Kagan's good fortune is that the Republicans are going to be going after her at the -- precisely the same time that David Petraeus is going to be testifying on Capitol Hill. So it probably won't even get that much attention. No news is good news for her.

COOPER: All right. Jeff Toobin, appreciate it. Thanks, Jeff.


COOPER: Next on the program, did BP get a free pass when it got its operating permit from the government for that Deepwater Horizon rig? We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Also, a late update on the Tropical Storm Alex, possibly soon to be a hurricane.


COOPER: Well, it's got new leadership and a new name, but tonight the federal agency in charge of regulating BP is accused of giving the company a loophole to let it drill in the Gulf without revealing the possible risk to the environment.

And as you'll see, BP was not the only one that got the free pass. Again, here's Joe Johns "Keeping Them Honest."


JOHNS (voice-over): Before it ever began drilling out in the Gulf, BP got an extraordinary gift from the government. The agency that regulates offshore oil exploration declared it didn't believe the Deepwater Horizon would cause any environmental damage, so BP deserved a pass. BP would not be required to comply with a tough law that would have forced the oil giant to fully assess what risks its rig might pose to the environment.


JOHNS (on camera): Because it got this pass, here's what BP did not have to do.

They didn't have to produce specific information on the equipment that it was using or the place where it was drilling. And BP didn't have to answer this question: could there be a serious accident affecting the environment?

In other words, BP got to skip what would have been the toughest and final environmental review it would face before drilling.

(voice-over) That final environmental review would have taken time. It would have itemized in detail all the things that could go wrong, and how that could hurt the environment. And that would almost certainly have delayed final approval to drill.

(on camera) Instead, BP got that pass from the agency at the Interior Department that's supposed to regulate it.

But "Keeping Them Honest," as bad as all this sounds, it gets worse. It's not just BP and Deepwater Horizon. In fact, most oil companies working in the Gulf get that same pass. That means, of the hundreds of oil projects operating today in the Gulf, most got to skip that final critical environmental review.

SUCKLING: So the whole system is broken. It's not about BP having some individualized way of gaming the system. The oil industry has gamed the entire system from top to bottom. JOHNS: Documents supplied to congressional investigators by that Interior Department agency, the MMS, show that since President Obama took office, 254 oil development plans and 226 exploration plans in the Gulf were approved without the final environmental review.

The documents also show that every administration dating back to the first President Bush used the loophole. And they actually used it more often than Obama. Now, though, it could end.

OBAMA: We're closing the loophole that has allowed some oil companies to bypass critical environmental reviews.

JOHNS: But even if the administration closes the loophole, what about all those other projects currently operating in the Gulf?

SUCKLING: You really need to go back and redo that entire decision, to allow it in the first place. Instead what's happening is the Department of Interior is allowing those bad decisions to stand and trying to kind of come in around the back and fix it with safety inspections. And that's just not good enough. You've really got to go back to square one on this stuff.

JOHNS (voice-over): But sometimes starting over is hard to do, especially if you've already gotten the lease, leased the rig, and hired the crew. Eric Molito is with the American Petroleum Institute.

ERIC MOLITO, AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE: You don't want to hurt that industry any more. You want to protect the jobs that are down there, and this industry provides a lot of economic input and a lot jobs to that Gulf region.

JOHNS: There are other environmental reviews prior to this final one BP and others did not have to pass. But none as rigorous. In fact, the law allows 30 days for this review. But given the slow pace of government bureaucracy, no one really thinks they could get done in 30 days. That's another reason why the agency gave BP the pass.

The Interior Department won't comment because of pending litigation, but now the whole process is being reexamined by the White House, too late to help the Gulf.

COOPER: This whole thing stinks. If BP hadn't taken the shortcut, would we still be where we are today?

JOHNS: One thing we do know is that MMS and a lot of the oil companies have been in one way or another have been gaming the system in trying to get more and more oil out of the Gulf.

And experts we've talked to say she's as highly possible that they would have gamed the system to their advantage, if they got the environmental review.

The bottom line is, if you talk to people who really cover this stuff closely, they say if there had been a real environmental test there at the end of the process, with a real hard look at what BP and others have been doing, maybe we wouldn't be in this spot right now, Anderson?

COOPER: We also, of course, now know that the figures that BP and all these companies were using, which were government figures about the impact of an oil spill, they were based on a surface spill, not something at such deep water depths, which, frankly, the government hadn't studied. So all the data they had was wrong even, even if they had. Joe, appreciate it.

John, appreciate it. Breaking the news: we have new information now from the National Hurricane Center on the path of topic Alex. Chad Myers here with details. Chad, what's the breaking news?

MYERS: Well, the news is now that the hurricane watch that was from Baffin Way all the way down to Brownsville and really down to La Cruz, Mexico, now that's a hurricane warning. So the forecast is for this to become a hurricane in the overnight hours tonight. Right now it has bumped itself up a little bit, 60, 65 miles per hour.

You can see how the convection, the purple, if you will, has really gotten a lot stronger in the past couple of hours. The forecast as itself -- we'll just get rid of this whole thing here. You ride of it, throw it away. And you'll see that the storm will probably travel to the south of Brownsville.

But we always focus on the cone. It could be all the way to Corpus Christi; could be all the way down to La Pesca. But the thing is, we don't have any forecasts yet that would take it anywhere near what would be the oil spill. And a devastating storm surge that would push the oil much further inland.

That just does not look like that's going to happen. We will still get the winds, though, from this direction for many hours. Maybe three days. And that will push the oil into the marshes of Louisiana and into the Mississippi and Alabama beaches as well as we work our way into Friday and Saturday -- Anderson.

COOPER: And Chad, you may have said this already, but when do you think this is going to come ashore?

MYERS: This will come on shore late in the night on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Probably even maybe this time Wednesday night. Maybe as late as 2 a.m. Thursday morning. Yes. Right in here, right along the coast south of Brownsville.

COOPER: All right. Chad, appreciate that. Thanks very much.

Quickly, let's go back to Joe Johns and get a quick update of some other stories we're following -- Joe.

JOHNS: Anderson, the federal government says it uncovered an extensive Russian secret agent ring inside the U.S. The Justice Department arrested 10 people today, all accused of working as agents for Russia. Authorities caution that the arrests were, quote, the tip of the iceberg and said the accused all trained together.

In Peru, an appeal from Joran Van Der Sloot. The accused killer wants his confession thrown out. He's claiming his civil rights were violated after he was arrested for allegedly murdering a young woman. His lawyer says he'll use every possible law available to convince a court that Van Der Sloot was treated unfairly by the police.

And call it Tour de Tweet. Lance Armstrong today used his Twitter account to tell the world this year will be his last Tour de France race. Armstrong said, quote, "It's been a great ride," and it sure has. The 38-year-old cyclist had won seven Tour de France titles, placed third in last year's race. What a ride indeed, Anderson.

COOPER: Incredible. Do you think he's actually giving it up?

JOHNS: You know, it seems like he's quit a couple times and decided to come back. I wouldn't put money on it, if I were a betting man.

COOPER: All right, Joe, thanks very much.

We've got a lot more from the Gulf at the top of the hour. This is day 70 this disaster. It's the sixth week, consecutive week that we have been down here reporting. We'll be in the Gulf all week long. I hope you stick with us all week. I'll have more news right at the top of the hour, be right back.


COOPER: Live in Louisiana on day 70 of this disaster. It's our sixth week here in Louisiana. The last thing they need down here right now is a bad storm. Take a look, Tropical Storm Alex now in the Gulf. The question tonight: will it put the cleanup and well-capping work in jeopardy? Will it deepen the nightmare? Reports are parts of the sea are already too rough for skimming.