Tavis: Henry Waxman is the chair of the House Energy Committee who recently held hearings into the devastating situation in the Gulf. The California Democrat is serving his 18th term in the House. Always good to have him back at home here in L.A. Congressman, good to see you.
Rep. Henry Waxman: Thank you very much. Good to be home.
Tavis: Glad to have you home. You recently held hearings about what caused the BP oil spill. Do you know the answer to that question as yet?
Waxman: I can’t say that there is one cause, but we found a number of different instances where BP was cutting corners to save money and to save time, which of course is one of a number of different instances where BP was cutting corners to save money and to save time, which of course is money, because they wanted to get this well going as quickly as possible, and they just made so many different mistakes.
What was the cause? That’s something yet to be determined. But what we do know is they were reckless and negligent in not doing all the things that they should have done, even when we had the other oil companies’ executives in to testify, they said they wouldn’t have handled things the way BP had done.
They would have made sure the well was handled, that the cementing was done in the right way, that the blowout preventer was actually working. There are a lot of different steps, and they said they never would have cut the corners that BP did.
Tavis: Are you satisfied, and if not satisfied, I’ll let you fill in the blank, with regard to how BP is handling this disaster now, as you and I sit here?
Waxman: (Laughs) I can’t say that I am at this point. They haven’t been able to stop the oil gushing, that’s a very big problem. When they applied for the permit to drill that well, they said they could handle a spill of that kind of magnitude, if not greater, and of course they’re just not able to handle it at all.
They put up money in an escrow at the insistence of President Obama, which I think was a great thing to do -
Tavis: The $20 billion thing?
Waxman: I think it’s $30 billion.
Tavis: Thirty billion dollars, yeah, yeah.
Waxman: It means that people who need to be compensated don’t have to wait years going into court to get their money. They can get the money right away. BP has always been very careful – they’re going to pay all “legitimate” claims, and then of course what legitimate is is yet to be determined. But at least that money is set aside or will be set aside for those claims.
But they haven’t stopped the leak and then when the CEO testified before our committee I was absolutely astounded. This is this fellow Tony Hayward. He had good press for a while when he said, “Oh, I want to get my life back and I feel so terrible about what happened.”
He said that he became CEO of BP in order to make sure that safety was going to be their highest priority. Then when we asked him questions and we gave him the questions in advance, he acted as if he had nothing to do with it. “Well, I didn’t know about that, I didn’t know that they did this, I didn’t communicate with anybody, nobody told me.”
I just thought that was disingenuous for a man who was the head of the corporation and who said that his motto was going to be that BP stood for safety, and then he had no regard for all the things that people were doing to cut corners and save money and make it more risky.
Tavis: Since you’re the chair of the committee, I want to turn in a second to talk more about this energy solution, hopefully. But before I turn to talk about the possibilities for us as Americans, let me flip it on you for just a second here with regard to how we got in this mess. You mentioned – and of course you had many of these oil company CEOs testifying in front of your committee.
On this program not long ago we had the former president of the Shell Oil Company who has a new book out called “Why We Hate the Oil Companies,” and as you may know, in this book, one of the arguments that he makes is that the American people are to be blamed as well for this disaster, and the argument goes something like this, for those who didn’t see that program, that at least one of the reasons why we’re drilling so deep from shore, drilling so deep in the ground, is because as American people we don’t want to acknowledge, one, our dependence on oil, but number two, we don’t want to see oil drilling.
So we don’t want you drilling in shallow water because when we go to the beach we don’t want to see all this, so get way out there where we don’t have to see it, and that’s why so many of these companies have started going farther and farther out, is because members of Congress and other regulatory bodies have given in to the pressure that we don’t want to see this on our shores.
I’ll let you respond to that, but I’m curious as to what role you think – it’s easy to blame BP and correct to blame them, no doubt about it, but what responsibility, what culpability do we as American citizens, as Congress have in this process while everybody’s throwing darts at BP?
Waxman: Well, I think we have a problem that we’re so dependent on oil that we’re allowing that dependence to jeopardize our national security when we import foreign oil, we’re jeopardizing our environment, we see what’s happening in the Gulf.
It adds to the carbon pollution in the atmosphere, which is causing global warming and climate change. We know this is a real problem and that oil is one of the leading causes of that pollution that’s doing so much damage to our environment.
The oil companies have fought vigorously against any efforts to lower our dependence on oil, whether it’s domestic or imported, so if we’re dependent on oil we want to develop our domestic resources rather than have it imported, but we need to move away from oil. That’s why I so strongly support the idea of a broader legislative solution that will have us use alternatives to oil, to reduce the carbon emissions from other sources, especially coal in some of the utilities, to hasten the development of automobiles that are either electric or hybrid so that’s not strictly using oil.
Those are the things we need to do. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re not getting started because of a lot of opposition, primarily because of the oil companies.
Tavis: But respectfully, though, screw the oil companies – if this disaster with BP doesn’t allow the American people to see this is what can happen, this is what happens, this is happening because of our dependence on oil, screw the oil companies, I don’t want to hear that.
I’m asking, respectfully, when it is and how it is that the American people and that our leaders in government circumvent the oil companies and say, “This is what we’re going to do for the sake of the American people.”
Waxman: Well, the president has been very clear – for the sake of the American people, our economy, our national security, to create more jobs, we need a comprehensive energy climate change bill that’ll move us away from these contributors of carbon emissions, and oil and coal are the major sources of these carbon emissions.
You asked, though, the question directly – should we all feel blameworthy for what happened, and I don’t quite accept that. We are dependent on this transportation source for our motor vehicles. I can’t blame people for driving vehicles that use oil.
I blame government and leaders for not moving us away from that and developing a different strategy, and now that we have leadership from President Obama it is so difficult.
The House passed a bill and we’re waiting for the Senate, and maybe they will get their act together and pass legislation, but if we don’t do it, as years go by things don’t change overnight. It’s going to take a period of transition.
We need to drill for oil. I think it’s a mistake to say that there’s something wrong with drilling for oil. We’ve got to drill for oil, but if we’re going to have drilling for oil, we’ve got to make sure it’s done safely to protect the environment as best we can from the drilling itself.
Tavis: How do you explain to the American people how it is that the folk in the Gulf – now I say this respectfully, because I understand how their economy works down there – but how do you, to your point now that you think we do need to drill for oil, just to do it safely, how do we explain to the American people who are watching this disaster in the Gulf who don’t understand how something this devastating could be – this oil is in Florida now, as you know; this oil’s in Texas now. It’s all over the place in the Gulf.
Yet the people in that region don’t want to stop oil drilling. It’s like on the one hand they’re demonizing – I shouldn’t say demonizing. They’re going after BP, I want to underscore again, as they should. They’re going after BP, but at the same time I don’t hear a chorus of voices saying, “We’ve got to move beyond oil drilling.”
Waxman: Well, they’re dependent on oil as part of their economy.
Tavis: But dependence doesn’t make it right, though.
Waxman: Well, it makes it understandable.
Waxman: They’re not against oil drilling, and I’m not against oil drilling, per se, although I think the moratorium makes a lot of sense until we can make sure it’s done safely, but we have oil drilled and we’re not going to stop drilling for oil. This is an important resource that we need to use and we need to move away from, but we need it now.
I’d rather develop more American oil than have to be importing more, although we’re never going to be self-sufficient. Just the statistics, which I think are pretty dramatic – we have 3 percent of the world’s oil resources in this country and we consume 25 percent. Well, there’s no way in the world we’re going to be independent of importing oil unless we get away from using oil.
Tavis: So how do you move beyond, then, finally here, how do you move beyond the politics? To your point earlier, President Obama is trying to do that. In the speech that most people, left and right, seem not to like, at least in that speech he tried to raise the issue of different energy sources, a different direction for our energy program in this country.
The minute that he did that, as you well know, being on the Hill, he got accused of playing politics and trying to insert a political agenda into a controversy. So how do you move beyond the politics to make that happen?
Waxman: Yeah. Well, I just want to point out something that is obvious, I think, to most people that have – there’s nothing he can do that he’s not criticized about. You would think in a disaster like this, the country would be united and try to help do whatever we need to do to clean it up and to respond to it. Rather than blame BP, we have Republicans saying, “Oh, it’s Obama’s fault.” Well, what did he do? (Laughter)
Now, the government has a lot of responsibility because we have a government agency that’s supposed to supervise the safety of this drilling, and that agency has failed miserably and in fact there are even scandals associated with the Mineral Resources Development Agency.
The president is trying to change that and restructure it and make sure he’s got better people in there, but they blame president – even the governor in Louisiana, who was a very active Republican congressman, very active Republican, says, “Oh, they’ve got to build a certain rock pile of some sort,” and the scientists tell us that that’s a mistake.
But he’s saying the federal government is not doing what we need to do. Well, I think so much of that has become politicized and it shouldn’t be. Everything’s not political and everything’s not partisan, but if you listen to the complaints every time President Obama makes a move, somebody wants to blame something on him even though he had nothing to do with it.
Tavis: Well, we do agree on that point. I think it’s laughable – beyond laughable – that many persons on the right demonize government all day long until they want government to do what they want government to do, but I digress.
Henry Waxman from L.A., 18 years, 18 terms – not hardly 18 years, 18 terms, two different things, in the House, chair of the House Energy Committee. Good to have you on, Congressman.
Waxman: Thank you. Good to be with you.
Tavis: Thank you, sir.
[Walmart - Save money. Live better.]
Announcer: Nationwide Insurance proudly supports Tavis Smiley. Tavis and Nationwide Insurance – working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. Nationwide is on your side.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.