VALDEZ, Alaska -- Gov. Steve Cowper declared a disaster emergency and called on the president to help fight the largest oil spill in U.S. history Sunday as the state attacked the oil industry response and moved to protect sensitive areas of oil-blackened Prince William Sound.
The governor asked President Bush to declare the 11 million-gallon spill a federal disaster, making more money available and bolstering the overwhelmed cleanup effort.
Valdez Mayor John Devens earlier Sunday urged Cowper and Bush to open their treasuries for emergency relief in cleaning up the spill that Cowper said threatened the future of a major fishery and one of the most pristine marine environments in the world.
Alaska, impatient with the plodding oil industry clean-up, acted forcefully Sunday to get out into the waters and fight the spill.
State environmental officials moved to place protective booms around the three most environmentally sensitive areas to keep oil out - something they said should have been done by oil companies Friday when the Exxon Valdez hit a well-marked reef, opening huge holes in the modern 987-foot tanker.
Oil that spewed from the tanker surrounded dozens of sea otters and diving birds. Fingers of oil slipped over toward islands. The slick remained largely unchecked by limited cleanup gear despite an oil industry public relations campaign claiming the companies were moving aggressively to fight the spill, state officials said.
'We're very unhappy and we're not going to stand for it,' Alaska Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Dennis Kelso said in an interview.
The tanker was carrying 53 million gallons of oil to Long Beach, Calif. The spill, 22 miles to 30 miles south of Valdez, fouled waters prized by 1,000 fishermen for salmon, shrimp, crab and herring and by tourists seeking exquisite scenery and a glimpse of whales, seals, sea lions and sea otters.
Kelso had vowed to give oil companies through Sunday to clean up oil before intervening to take over fighting the largest oil spill in American history.
But he could not wait. And neither could the governor.
Late Sunday afternoon, the governor declared a disaster emergency, releasing money for the cleanup. The Department of Environmental Conservation acted to use booms to keep oil away from the tiny Aleut fishing village of Tatitlek, the herring spawning grounds at Galena Bay, and Naked Island, where sea birds and otters swim.
Exxon planned to ignite three fingers of oil reaching from the spill and had booms around the tanker and parts of the slick. Only small amounts of oil had been burned, scooped up or bombed with dispersing agents.
Kelso said Alaska was so unhappy with the oil industry cleanup that an assistant attorney general read the riot act to oil officials in what he termed a 'blunt discussion.' He said oil industry officials privately acknowledged their failure to respond adequately.
In public, at daily news conferences attended by 175 reporters, fishermen and citizens in this town of 3,600, Exxon officials pointed to what they called an all-out response by their company and Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the nearby Valdez oil terminal.
Kelso, chief environmental officer for the state, said the industry response was 'all show.'
Valdez was buzzing with planes delivering experts, workers and equipment, but Kelso said, 'We still don't see the kind of effort protecting sensitive areas' spelled out in an oil spill contingency plan.
'Forty-eight hours into the spill, no one has dealt with these beaches identified in the contingency plan,' he said.
Kelso called the response by Exxon and Alyeska, 'too little, too late, too many excuses.'
Spill plans require a response within five hours from Alyeska's Valdez terminal to a spill farther away than where Exxon lost 11 million gallons in Prince William Sound, and 'it hasn't happened yet,' Kelso said 54 hours after the spill.
The state filed a formal protest to the Regional Response Team chaired by a Coast Guard captain and an administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The 42 million gallons of oil still aboard the tanker were being pumped onto other Exxon tankers. The Exxon Valdez remained grounded with eight known large holes, as big as 8-by-20-feet, Exxon Shipping Co. President Frank Iarossi said.
Fifty sea otters were in the oil slick, Exxon biologist Alan Maki said.
Seventy-five birds were covered with oil, said Pamela Bergmann of the Department of Interior. Exxon set up a bird rescue center and flew in detergent to clean oily sea birds.
Exxon was relying on two primary ways of fighting the spill - bombing it with a chemical dispersing agent and igniting it -- but Alaska wants Exxon to use skimmers, boats that scoop up oil, while seas are calm. Alaska says skimming works but that Exxon's methods are uncertain and carry dangers of their own.
Exxon set fire to 15,000 gallons of oil Saturday in a test Iarossi called successful and a 'useful technique' for getting rid of oil. Tatitlek villagers complained to the state about fumes and smoke.
Exxon's 'first line of defense' remained dispersants, Iarossi said. The chemicals break up oil, but critics don't want more toxic chemicals in the water. Tests Friday failed, tests Saturday showed improvement and more tests were slated Sunday to persuade officials to approve widespread use of the chemicals.
Fishermen fear bombing the spill with chemicals will poison fish. Kelso said Alaska opposed wholesale use of dispersants. He urged Exxon to fill the Sound with skimmers, saying, 'Mechanical recovery avoids potential problems of toxicity in the water associated with dispersants.'
Five skimmers were at work Sunday and six more were being flown to Valdez, including two Navy skimmers, said Coast Guard Lt. Ed Wieliczkiewicz.
The port of Valdez remained closed at Coast Guard orders. Ten tankers heading toward Valdez to pick up Alaska crude for Lower 48 refineries were anchored near the spill waiting for the port to reopen.
Alaska oil production has been further reduced to 800,000 barrels daily because of limited storage capacity at the closed oil terminal. Normal daily production is 2 million barrels -- one-fourth of U.S. production. But no oil was leaving Alaska from Valdez.