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Lawmakers: Effects of Oil Spill Could Linger for Years Along Gulf Coast

June 9, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Obama administration officials were grilled during five separate congressional hearings over the consequences of the oil spill and the ongoing cleanup efforts. Jim Lehrer gets two points of view, from Florida's Sen. Bill Nelson and Wyoming's Sen. John Barrasso.
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JIM LEHRER: We get some reaction now from two senators. Bill Nelson is a Democrat from the state of Florida. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, he serves on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Senator Barrasso, to you first.

How do you feel about the way the U.S. government, the federal government, has reacted and handled the oil spill thus far?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO, R-Wyo.: I think they have not done an adequate job. It is day 51. It took them much too long, in my opinion, to get engaged.

And, even yesterday, the report came out that the president of the United States had still not talked to the CEO of — of British Petroleum. It is — it is unthinkable to the American people that the two of them haven’t talked.

So, I think that the — that it has been delayed and much too slow, and a reaction that I think has not been fair to the people of the Gulf or to the people of nation.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Nelson, you’re reaction, sir?

SEN. BILL NELSON: Well, my colleague from Wyoming is one of the great gentlemen of the Senate. He and I have differences, and this is one.

I think the president has been sitting by helpless, with BP having the technology of shutting off the oil spewing out of the well. And the federal government doesn’t have that. Now, going forward, the federal government should.

Now, when you get around to the question of the claims, are they being paid in a timely fashion? No. Are the fishermen, are the people out there, are they getting paid for loss of all their work and loss of their income? No.

Are — are the cleanup folks out on the beach getting those tar balls off the beach? No. So, there’s a lot of improvement, but the president is on it. This thing, Jim, with so much oil in the Gulf of Mexico sloshing around, this is going to be one of the major operations that we have ever seen.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Barrasso, do you believe that the bulk of the responsibility and the lack of action, as you say, should go to BP, or do you think it’s now the federal government’s responsibility?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Well, today, in the Energy Committee hearing, the — Secretary Salazar, the secretary of interior, said we have been on top of this and making the decisions from the beginning.

But I think, when the American people take a look at this, in day 51, and they see the oil continuing to spew out, they’re saying, is everyone helpless? What — what are the best ideas?

And — and I had additional questions for the secretary today about the moratorium, because I think that’s going to be a second assault on the Gulf, with — even by the department’s own recognition, that it’s over 100,000 jobs that can be lost if they don’t go back and continue to provide the energy for the people of the United States.

JIM LEHRER: So, you’re — you — you are opposed to the moratorium?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: I am opposed to the moratorium.

And I asked Secretary Salazar today about that. I agree with Senator Landrieu that, even the temporary pause button is going to hurt the economy, at a time that we’re dealing with 9.7 percent unemployment in this country.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Nelson, what is your view on the moratorium the pause vs. the stop?

SEN. BILL NELSON: Well, you, first of all, distinguish between the deepwater drilling exploratory and the shallow.

And the president has said keep doing the shallow, 500 feet or less. Deepwater, we sure better know what went wrong before we continue to do this, because we sure don’t want to have another one of these things go off and fill the Gulf up all the more. And so that’s why there’s this investigation.

My former colleague from Florida Senator Bob Graham is the co-chairman of this. We need to know what went wrong and what we do about it, so it won’t happen again, before we allow those exploratory wells to go deep. Now, the production wells, they can keep going. We’re talking about exploratory wells.

JIM LEHRER: You’re talking about the wells that are already in production. Leave them alone, no pause, no stopping?

SEN. BILL NELSON: There’s not the drilling in those.

JIM LEHRER: Not the drilling.

SEN. BILL NELSON: They’re already done.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

Now, Senator Barrasso, where do you come down on that distinction, between those that are already drilling — I mean, already operating, vs. those that haven’t been drilled at all?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Well, I think that we ought to be able to continue all the production that’s currently ongoing, but we also shouldn’t be pushing the pause button, because I think this is another assault on the economy and the impact of the people who live in this area, in terms of employment, in terms of productivity.

The — you know, the interesting thing is, when you look at the BP’s emergency response plan, it had to do with seals and sea lions. And they don’t even live in the Gulf, but that was their regional plan for there. So, to think that the administration approved that plan last July to allow them to go forward says that the — the administration has some explaining to do, in terms of what sort of a plan for emergency response they will allow.

But that response didn’t have anything to do or to deal — how to deal with a tragic event like the one that’s occurred.

JIM LEHRER: What about that, Senator Nelson? The details have — the Associated Press has reported most of the them, the details of this plan that was approved by the federal government, BP’s plan. Would you agree with Senator Barrasso that just doesn’t make it?

SEN. BILL NELSON: There’s a lot of explaining to do about this particular application. And that’s why Senator Boxer and I have asked for investigation. Have they crossed the line on purposely misleading on the application? And that, again, will be brought out by the investigation.

But you have got to give credit where credit is due. The minute Ken Salazar came in as secretary, he went in there and started cleaning house. And, oh, my goodness, what a house that was dirty.

You know, Jim, about all those I.G. reports back as late as 2008 that said sex, booze, trips, gifts, the revolving door coming right out of the industry, going in as a government regulator, and then the door revolves again, and they go right back into the oil industry. So, Ken Salazar has been trying to clean it up.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Barrasso, what about BP specifically? House Democrat Ed Markey said the other day — and I think he repeated it again today — that he wouldn’t believe what — anything BP said now. It didn’t matter what it was; he wouldn’t believe it.

Do you feel the same way?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Well, first, let me say with regard to Minerals Management…

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: … Ron Wyden, Democrat, John Barrasso, Republican, introduced a bill two years ago, in 2008, to try to clean up the sorts of things that Senator Nelson has talked about. So, I agree we need to do something there. And some of us have been trying to do that for several years.

I am skeptical of what I hear from BP. We have heard estimates at the beginning that continued to grow. So, I — I don’t know if they know what the truth is on this or if they have been advised by lawyers to not talk about things.

But I’m — I’m absolutely concerned about the truth and what the American people are hearing.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Nelson, you have suggested, also, that there should be a criminal investigation of BP to see if there — any laws were broken, any criminal laws were — were broken. What’s your — what’s the nature of your — of your concern?

SEN. BILL NELSON: That’s what I just referred to, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: That’s what you meant? That’s criminal?

SEN. BILL NELSON: Senator Boxer and I have asked for an investigation as to whether there was purposeful misleading on the application to drill this particular well.

JIM LEHRER: Now, Senator Barrasso, to you first, and then back to Senator Nelson, as we finish this.

You — both of you, you’re United States senators. You’re very much involved, you, a member of the vital committee, you, Senator Nelson, as one of the Gulf Coast senators.

Do you feel that the situation is now understood and under control in any way, in a general way, adding up BP’s efforts to the federal government’s efforts and all efforts that are under way, Senator Barrasso first?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: I don’t think that the system, that it is under control. And I don’t think it will be under control until we get the leak stopped. And I know they’re trying to drill other wells to unload.

But I think, at this point, it is not under control. And it seems to be today, at least from the hearings that we had with the secretary of interior, that the amount leakage may be — today may be greater than it’s been all the way through.

JIM LEHRER: An ongoing disaster, Senator Nelson?

SEN. BILL NELSON: Yes, sir. And the sooner it’s over, the better.

Right now, we keep hearing that they are, as of this moment, collecting 15,000 barrels a day. Just look at the streaming live video. Look at all the oil that’s still escaping into the Gulf.

I will bet you, then, it’s as much that’s escaping as they’re collecting. Now, can they get all of that? I certainly hope so, Jim, and that we don’t have to wait all the way, as Admiral Allen says, until September. But that’s the final date that they can cement the well.

JIM LEHRER: But, at this point, nobody really knows how far or how long this disaster has got ahead of it, correct?

SEN. BILL NELSON: And we don’t know how much oil is in the Gulf, because we have had all of these different estimates.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

SEN. BILL NELSON: And we don’t know about the underwater plumes. We could be seeing the effects of this for years and years.

JIM LEHRER: You agree, Senator Barrasso?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Absolutely. I think he’s absolutely right.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

Gentlemen, thank you both very much.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Thank you.

SEN. BILL NELSON: Thanks, Jim.