Footing The Bill For The Oil Spill

In the words of one environmental watchdog group: St. Bernard Parish is a class action lawsuit waiting to happen.

It's not just wind and water in the mix here, but oil – 880,000 gallons of oil spilled from the tanks of Murphy Oil. The toxic results mean in some parts, residents won't be coming back to live here for months – if ever.

The oil spill has turned into a muddy sludge. It's too soon to know how toxic it is, but CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports that the million-dollar question now seems to be who should pay to clean it up.

The answer is obvious to Parish President Henry Rodriguez, Jr.: Murphy Oil.

"I don't think should be taxpayers paying for that," he said.

But it may not be what Murphy Oil has in mind. Rodriguez said that Murphy Oil has suggested that some of the oil has come from cars and is not theirs.

We asked Murphy Oil's CEO if they had been cleaning up the oily mess in homes. He answered by saying the first priority is the streets.

"So far we're concentrating on streets, where our current effort is,"
said Claiborne Deming, Murphy Oil's president and CEO.

For what work Murphy Oil does do, it may seek reimbursement from taxpayers. The total bill for this natural and environmental disaster is anyone's guess. There are cancer-causing chemicals in crude oil. The more dangerous the muck, the harder and more expensive cleanup will be.

One outspoken EPA official says he doesn't trust the reassuring news that's coming from his own agency.

"The EPA has not done a thorough assessment of the contamination of that parish or any other parishes that have been contaminated," said Hugh Kaufman, an EPA senior policy analyst at the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

In an ominous sign, police today called the area a "red zone" and escorted Attkisson and her crew out – sending them to decontamination.

There is no doubt there will be squabbling over damage and dollars. But Rodriguez says he knows who is going to get stuck in the end.

"The little guy at the bottom of the latter is the guy who will suffer," Rodriguez said.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com