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Obama Promises ‘Unprecedented Response’ to Gulf Spill Victims

June 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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President Barack Obama vowed to do whatever is necessary to clean up the Gulf as he returned to Washington to address the nation, following his visit to survey damage from the blown-out oil well. Judy Woodruff gets a preview of his remarks from White House Energy Adviser Carol Browner.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Late today, President Obama announced that he has chosen Michael Bromwich to oversee the restructuring of the Minerals Management Service. That’s the agency overseeing oil and gas development. Bromwich is a former U.S. attorney and inspector general at the Justice Department.

We’re going to be talking with White House energy and environment adviser Carol Browner a little — there she is right now.

Carol Browner, thank you very much for joining us.

I want to ask you first about the new information the government released late this afternoon. And that is, the amount of oil leaking is now as much estimated up to 2.5 million gallons a day. That’s well beyond what was previously estimated. Does this change the sense of urgency about all this?

CAROL BROWNER, assistant to the president for energy and climate change: Well, this has been from the get-go the biggest response, environmental response, in — in the history of our country.

And nothing that — we are doing everything we possibly can, and we will continue to do that. Those new numbers, I think it’s important to understand, it’s a range that the scientists have released, from 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day. What scientists do is, they take information as they get it, they reanalyze it, and — and they put forward their evaluations.

And what we promised the American people is, as the scientists did these analysis, as they got new information, as they came forward with new estimates, we would make those available. And, so, that’s what — they completed their work today. And those are the numbers that we made available. And there may be more numbers as they continue to get more information.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it could get worse?

CAROL BROWNER: It could change. I don’t know that it could necessarily get worse. They’re getting finer details that they can look at. For example, they now have some pressure measurements that were able to inform their thinking. So, we’re getting sort of more clarity of information.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Carol Browner, picking up on something that came out of today’s congressional hearing with these oil company executives, if they have response plans that — that call for dealing with walruses in the Gulf of Mexico, which was what was in apparently most of these plans, why is that not something that the government saw and caught as a mistake?

CAROL BROWNER: Well, that’s deeply troubling.

And we had — we had learned of that recently. And, obviously, that has to be fully investigated. You know, the president has appointed a commission, an independent commission, to look at all of this. And, as you just noted, a former prosecutor, a known reformer, Mr. Bromwich, will be coming into the Department of Interior, working with Secretary Salazar to ensure that, going forward, we can guarantee to the American people that the permits are — are done appropriately, that the environment is protected, and that nothing like this happens again.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, beyond that, there’s an extensive report today in The New York Times that documents that federal government oversight, according to authoritative sources, largely amounts to accepting what the industry says that it can do.

One consultant was quoted as saying, “Foreign governments have stricter regulations than the U.S.”

CAROL BROWNER: We’re deeply troubled by all of these reports. And that’s why the president, as I said, has appointed this commission. We need to understand exactly what happened. We need to understand how we move forward, what kind of safeguards need to be put in place.

And then we need to understand, if there were, in the worst of all instances, another accident, how we could respond in a rapid and timely manner. You know, the president has put in place a moratorium because we are concerned. We need to get to the bottom of this. We will before we continue with these operations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, when it comes to that response plan, Florida’s Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is quoted today as saying: “The system isn’t working. Information isn’t flowing.” He said, “Decisions are not timely.” He said, “Resources are not produced.” And, as a result, he said, “You have a big mess with no command-and-control.”

CAROL BROWNER: Well, there is a command-and-control.

Admiral Allen has been doing a great job. There’s a whole structure underneath of him. But, you know, Judy, we are dealing with something that’s never been dealt with before. We’re dealing with the largest environmental disaster. And it’s not just a hurricane. And those can be horrific. They come, they go, and we start the cleanup.

Here, we’re in the midst of something. It’s still unfolding. We’re having to constantly readjust resources because the winds get involved, the currents get involved. And so there are structures in place. I was with the president today. We traveled across the region.

We have assigned to each of the states their own command unit, so that they can go directly to those individuals, get the answers. But there is also the need for coordination because of the fact that this does move around and it does change on almost a day-to-day basis.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, from the region — and we’re going to be hearing from this gentleman in just a moment — he is the county — he’s the commission chairman for Escambia County in Florida — Grover Robinson. He told us today he’s been disappointed in the level of coordination on the response. He said resources have been slow. He’s asking for more skimmers.

What should our message be to him?

CAROL BROWNER: Well, we actually met with him today. He was in the meeting with the president, and he gave us a number of ideas. We are looking at those. We take them seriously. And we will be responding to those.

You know, the — the oil, we first thought was going to head towards Florida. Then the wind took it over to Louisiana, so the responses were oriented toward Louisiana. It’s now starting to move back over to Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, so the resources are — are being deployed there.

You know, we have over 5,000 vessels working in the region. We have over five million feet of boom that’s been deployed. And we’re ready to do the cleanups as it comes on shore. But, obviously, we — we hear what these individuals are saying. We take their questions seriously. We take their suggestions seriously.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, Carol Browner, I want to ask you about the president’s speech tonight. There are advance reports that say the president is not going to go so far as to call for sweeping energy legislation that would put, among other things, a price on carbon.

That is exactly, as you know very well, what many experts in — on the environment and energy are saying that he should do.

CAROL BROWNER: You know, since — the president will talk about the fact that, since he was a candidate, since he came to office, he has been calling for a different energy future, for a clean-energy future. He’s going to recognize the leadership of the House and Senate, the bill that they passed, comprehensive energy and climate legislation.

He’s going to call on all Americans to rally together to change our energy use, to create a different energy future, a clean-energy future that will create American jobs and that will give us the kind of opportunity we need to — to compete in the global clean-energy market.

We want comprehensive energy legislation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we’re going to leave it there.

Carol Browner, senior environmental adviser to President Obama, thank you.