Guests: Sen. Barbara Boxer, David Muth, Larry McKinney
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: And now, for the very latest from the Gulf Coast, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow, live from New Orleans.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thank you very much for that.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us.
I am in New Orleans tonight, or at least just across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans. In just a while, we‘ll bring you the reporting from the wetlands just south of here, reporting that explains why the B.P. oil disaster is not just an epic crisis for the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Coast but for this great city, too.
We‘ll bring you up-to-date on the results from the most compelling elections last night, including the victory of young boozer in Alabama, I didn‘t make that up.
And in a very, very, very small way, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW tonight will try to give something back to the city of New Orleans. The city of New Orleans, which has given our show so much—trust me, it‘s a very, very little thing that we‘ve done for New Orleans but we hope everyone here recognizes that it‘s the thought that counts. It‘s even kind of a small thought, but still. Stay tuned for that. It‘s all to come this hour.
But we begin tonight right here in New Orleans where it is now day 44 of the B.P. oil disaster.
In the midst of this ongoing crisis, President Obama today mined political capital from it—political capital mined from this unparalleled environmental disaster to put toward a big 90-degree turn in this nation‘s energy policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf right now may prove to be a result of human error—or of corporations taking dangerous shortcuts to compromise safety, or a combination of both. But we have to acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth. And these are risks—
OBAMA: These are risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes. We can pursue such production only if it‘s safe, and only if it‘s used as a short-term solution while we transition to a clean energy economy. And the time has come to aggressively accelerate that transition. The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The time has come to aggressively accelerate that transition. You know, we‘ve heard lots and lots of different president shout applause lines like that over the years. But nobody has ever had a crude-soaked political backdrop as big as this one to help him make this case. President Obama used this clarifying moment as the nation‘s eyes are trained a mile underground, everybody cursing this unabated flow of oil—he used this image to urge the country toward progress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The House of Representatives has already passed a comprehensive energy and climate bill. And there‘s currently a plan in the Senate—a plan that was developed with ideas from Democrats and Republicans that would achieve the same goal.
And, Pittsburgh, I want you to know: the votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months. I will continue to make the case for a clean energy future wherever and whenever I can.
OBAMA: I will work with anyone to get this done. And we will get it done.
The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century. We are not going to move backwards. We are going to move forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In order to move forward, of course, Mr. Obama needs to find votes in the Senate. And sometimes finding votes means conciliation and cajoling. And sometimes finding votes means getting combative, getting the country on your side—and being willing to call the other side wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: A good deal of the other party‘s opposition to our agenda has also been rooted in their sincere and fundamental belief about the role of government. It‘s a belief that government has little or no role to play in helping this nation meet our collective challenges. It‘s an agenda that basically offers two answers to every problem we face, more tax breaks for the wealthy, and fewer rules for corporations. If you‘re a Wall Street bank or insurance company or an oil company, you pretty much get to play by your own rules, regardless of the consequences for everybody else.
And now we have a choice as a nation. We can return to the failed economic policies of the past or we can keep building a stronger future. We can go backward or we can keep moving forward.
And I don‘t know about you, but I want to move forward. I think America wants to move forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, when you‘re the party out of power as the Republicans are, almost by definition, you don‘t really have one national leader who can respond to a sort of scathing attack like that from the president. But in the case of this year‘s Republican Party, you do have Sarah Palin. And she does have the Twitter.
Mrs. Palin took to her Twitter account to say that the B.P. oil disaster has proven her “drill, baby, drill” slogan to be correct, and she says the spill is all the left‘s fault. See if you can follow this one. Palin tweeted, quote, “Extreme Greenies, see now why we push ‘drill, baby, drill‘ of known reserves and promising finds in safe onshore places like ANWR? Now do you get?”
Now do you get it? But, really, do you get it? Sort of an open question, it‘s kind of complicated and kind of strange.
I think—I think what she‘s saying is that “drill, baby, drill” wasn‘t about drilling for oil offshore, silly Billy, it was about drilling in, quote, “safe onshore places.” And this whole B.P. oil disaster thing is the result of extreme greenies who like the offshore drilling.
Yes. I‘m not sure that cleared it up. But the idea is that essentially the media‘s gotten it wrong this whole time. It‘s the lame-stream media who would be so lame as to conclude that Sarah Palin was ever in favor of offshore drilling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SARAH PALIN ®, FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR: And we will safely drill for the billions of barrels of oil that are warehoused underground, including our offshore sources.
We will safely drill for the billions of barrels of oil that we have underground, including offshore.
Drill, baby, drill, that‘s right. It also means safely tapping into our offshore sources safely, environmentally safe.
I am a big supporter of domestic extraction of the resources that we are so reliant on.
And I‘m supportive of offshore oil drilling.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: Offshore oil drilling is pretty much been etched in to the Republican Party‘s platform recently. No pun intended.
And it‘s not just Sarah Palin who has been pushing it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: We can offshore drill now. We‘ve got to do it now.
MITT ROMNEY ®, FMR. MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: The right course is the one championed by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago and by John McCain and Sarah Palin today—the immediate drilling for more oil off our shore.
RUDY GIULIANI ®, FMR. NYC MAYOR: We‘ll do it with an all of the above approach, including nuclear power, and, yes, offshore drilling. Drill, baby, drill? Drill, baby, drill.
MCCAIN: We will drill new wells offshore and we‘ll drill them now.
And, my friends, drill offshore and drill now.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: Drill offshore and drill now. We didn‘t sneak lame-stream media like dropped that in and photo-shopped to make it look better. That‘s what they said. This is boiler plate Republicanism of the modern era.
Don‘t restrain the free market. If oil companies want to drill offshore, let them drill offshore. Let‘s make a chant out of it, please drill offshore.
Today, President Obama drew a bright line between that and Democratic-led efforts to move away from that—banking that one of those two sides is going to look way better to the American public right now than the other one.
Joining us now is Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat from the state of California and chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Senator Boxer, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: The president today issuing sort of a clarion call for the climate bill to get through the Senate. What is the status of the climate bill in the Senate right now? Could it conceivably get done?
BOXER: Sure, it can get done. The last time we tried it, we had 54 votes. We need 60. If America needed to see why we need to move away from these dirty sources of energy, they see it heartbreakingly every single minute of the day, and we know also, we‘re importing $1 billion of oil from folks who don‘t like us. It makes tremendous sense.
And I was pleased to hear in the president‘s voice a real determination. He had that same sound that he had before we passed health care. I‘m excited about that.
We need to move away from these old energy sources toward the new clean energy sources that the whole world wants. And it should be made in America. I want to see those words again. The world is waiting for a leader to step forward and it should be our country.
MADDOW: There were some incentives in the climate bill for states to open their shores to offshore drilling. Do you expect that those incentives are going to be changed or taken out entirely? Surely, the politics of that issue are entirely changed now, even Sarah Palin denying that she ever meant drilling offshore—
MADDOW: -- when she said “drill, baby, drill.”
BOXER: Well, let‘s be clear, as you have shown it, it‘s just straight out there. They wanted to drill anywhere and everywhere, deep, shallow, onshore, offshore. As a matter of fact, those very same voices were the ones who killed the congressional moratorium, which we had for many years in the Outer Continental Shelf—which thank goodness we still have off the west coast, which a lot of us are protecting, the six senators from the west coast.
But, yes. In the latest version of the bill by John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and it was Lindsey Graham, they did put out some incentives for the states, but I think those have been pulled back. In the bill that I reported out of our committee, we had no incentives and no offshore oil drilling in that bill.
But clearly, this is a whole new situation here, Rachel, and I think a lot of the news is going to shock people. I have some information that in ‘07 when the Bush administration decided that the Gulf area can have a big new robust five-year plan—you should hear, and I happen to have it here if you want—what they said about the risks of a spill.
MADDOW: So, this is from 2007 during the Bush administration.
MADDOW: And this is their explanation of what they thought the risks
would be. If you have it there, I would—if you could share it with us -
BOXER: I do.
MADDOW: -- I think it would be the first time anybody‘s heard it.
BOXER: It‘s true. Let me read it to you. Excuse my reading glasses here. They said—
MADDOW: Oh, they‘re cute, don‘t worry.
BOXER: -- “Blowouts are expected to have temporary, localized impacts on water quality.” They said, “Should a spill contact a barrier beach, oiling is expected to be light and sand removal during cleanup activities minimized.” They said, “Offshore oil spills resulting from a lease sale are not expected to damage significantly any wetlands along the Gulf Coast.”
And two more quick things they said: “At the expected level of impact, the resultant influence on commercial fishing from a lease sale would be negligible and indistinguishable from variations due to natural causes.”
And, finally, they said, “Based on the sizes of oil spills assumed for a lease sale, only localized and short-term disruption of recreational activity might result (minor impact).”
This is scandalous, Rachel, and this is what allowed the next step—which was for this deep well—this Deep Horizon to go forward. It was based on these statements by the Bush administration MMS.
MADDOW: When you were last on this show, Senator Boxer, you yourself called for an investigation into whether or not B.P. had lied ---
MADDOW: -- about their ability to handle an oil spill of this size.
Since then, Attorney General Eric Holder has announced a federal criminal inquiry into the spill. You‘ve also turned up this document that you just read from here in terms of what they said about the impact of a spill from Deepwater Horizon in order to get approval to go forward with it.
What‘s your reaction to the inquiry going forward? Are you satisfied that the Justice Department is pursuing this aggressively enough?
BOXER: I think the American people should feel better, should feel better, that this Justice Department has stated very clearly they are investigating. They are conducting a thorough investigation to look at whether civil laws were broken or criminal laws were broken. They‘ve stated what those laws are.
And Eric Holder has said that they‘ve got the FBI on the case.
They‘ve got teams of people there. People will be held accountable.
Now, this can‘t undo what happened. But there will be justice here.
I believe that.
And I think that if there‘s justice and we get the funding necessary so that we can make people whole—because these fishermen, the people who are losing their way of life—I mean, I feel so badly for them. Everybody does in America.
By the way, my committee‘s going to be going down there a week from Friday. We‘re spending the day, and the whole purpose—because it‘s the environment committee—is to look at ways we can lessen the impact.
And another thing I wanted to mention, I don‘t know if you‘ve heard, that today the incident commander, Admiral Allen, said that he is going to tell B.P. they have to allow for the construction of five barrier islands to protect the oil from—protect the shoreline, so these barrier islands would be protective of the shoreline and catch some of the oil. So, that‘s good news. It‘s something the local people really wanted.
MADDOW: Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California, chair of the Senate‘s environment committee—thanks so much for your time tonight, Senator. I really appreciate it.
BOXER: Thank you.
MADDOW: So, this afternoon boat tour—boat tour, awesome—of the Louisiana wetlands. What they do and what the B.P. oil disaster could do to them.
You have not heard this reported elsewhere. That‘s coming up next.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW is live from New Orleans. Please stay tuned.
MADDOW: I‘m here across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans tonight. But earlier today, I was at a place very nearby that looks very different from here, and that makes all of this possible.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Just to give you a sense of where we are compared to where New Orleans is, we‘re here at this incredibly, frakkin (ph), beautiful national historical park and preserve. And that‘s New Orleans right there. You can actually see one shell square in downtown New Orleans right at the end of this canal. That‘s how close these wetlands are to the city and that gives you some sense of what protective role these wetlands play in keeping that city safe from big storms.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADM. THAD ALLEN, BP. OIL SPILL NAT‘L INCIDENT COMMANDER: We had our first oil contact in the state of Mississippi and Mississippi Sound and some islands to the west. Louisiana‘s been impacted, and now, the threat is the shifting to Mississippi and Alabama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That‘s Admiral Thad Allen heading up the government‘s response to the B.P. oil disaster, explaining today what winds from the south and the west bring now.
They bring this: oil on barrier islands in Alabama and in Mississippi. They also bring reports of an oil slick visible in the water nine miles off the coast of Florida and preparations to try to keep that oil from coming ashore in places like Pensacola. That‘s all in addition to the 125 miles of Louisiana coastline that‘s been hit by oil thus far.
Some of that Louisiana coastline is beach, sandy beach, like we will see tomorrow when we‘re down in Jefferson Parish, continuing our coverage from the region.
But most of what‘s been—most of what‘s been hit by oil isn‘t beach. Most of it looks like this. Land like this. And land like this is life or death—not only for the wildlife that lives there and, boy, howdy, do they have some wildlife. But land like this is life or death in a much bigger way. It means life or death for all the other land that‘s not like this around here.
Here‘s what I mean: when there‘s a hurricane coming on to shore from the sea, the storm pushes water ahead of it on to the shore. It‘s the storm surge. The storm surge is like a high tide from hell. It can be incredibly destructive.
When Hurricane Katrina hit this region five years ago, here‘s what a 20-foot storm surge did to Chalmette, Louisiana. Look at that.
But to get a sense of the contrast, here‘s what a smaller 15-foot storm surge did to Slidell, Louisiana. Still bad, not the same.
What makes the difference between these two outcomes? In large part, wetlands—freaking wetlands.
They say that every 2.7 square miles of wetlands a storm passes over, brings the storm surge for communities behind those wetlands down by one foot. So, the difference—the mathematical difference between a 20-foot storm surge and a 15-foot storm surge, between destruction and biblical destruction turns out it‘s pretty easy, pretty horrifying math. If every 2.7 square miles of wetlands saves you from another foot of storm surge, then the difference between ending up like Chalmette and ending up like Slidell is roughly 13 ½ square miles of wetlands as protection.
And even before this oil disaster, Louisiana was losing 20 square miles of wetlands every year.
Get this—during the time of this broadcast, this TV show airing tonight, an area of wetlands the size of two football fields will be lost into the sea and will be turned into open water. And every 2.7 square miles of lost wetlands puts the storm surge that hits the land where I am sitting right now up one more foot when the storms inevitably come.
This is not some hippy crusade to save the cute baby gators. This is
to save a big piece of our country—a big important piece, it turns out -
a big important piece. We have been losing this life preserver of land at such a clip because of oil and gas drilling, because of shipping being prioritized, because of stupid development decisions. That was all true before the B.P. oil disaster.
Do you want to know what the B.P. oil disaster‘s going to do to the wetlands and the flashing neon that‘s going to put on the bull‘s eye that‘s already on this city?
Coming up next: you, me, and a whole lot of cute baby alligators.
We‘ll find out.
MADDOW: Not a typical day at the office today. Today, instead of staff meetings and weird halal meat from street carts on 6th Avenue, today I went to the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, which is run by the National Park Service just outside of New Orleans. We were in a part of the preserve that‘s called Barataria. It is connected through many waterways to the Gulf of Mexico. Barataria Bay down in the Gulf is one of the places that B.P.‘s oil has already turned up.
MADDOW: Hey, so, this isn‘t fake. This isn‘t some Disney version of a swamp with fake swamp noises. This is Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve outside of New Orleans. And I‘m here with David Muth. He‘s the chief of planning and resource stewardship here.
Thanks very much for talking to us, David. We appreciate it.
DAVID MUTH, JEAN LAFITTE NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK AND PRESERVE: Thank you for coming out to the park.
MADDOW: So, get me oriented here, because I feel like I‘m off the edge of the world. Which direction is New Orleans and how far is it?
MUTH: New Orleans is just north of us, the French Quarter is about 15 miles away. But the subdivisions of the city of New Orleans are less than two miles from here.
MUTH: So, we are right on the edge of the hurricane protection system, the levees for the city.
MADDOW: And so, there‘s the levees are between us and New Orleans. As storms come up the Gulf of Mexico, this is what they pass over before they get to those levees?
MUTH: This is what they pass over. And, of course, they used to pass over a lot more of it than they do now. But because of coastal land loss, many, many thousands of acres of marsh that used to be between the city and the Gulf are gone. And so, there‘s less and less.
So, when storms do come in, Hurricane Ike, just two years ago, which didn‘t come within 200 miles of us, had water four feet deep on this—on this section right here. I came through here in a kayak where there‘s a boardwalk.
MADDOW: In terms of what‘s going on right now with the oil disaster in the Gulf, Barataria Bay is one of the places where oil has already been found, has already come ashore.
MADDOW: Obviously, there‘s—the distinction between sea and land and water and land is a little fuzzy, but I‘m getting the sense the more time I spend here that, through waterways and through wetlands, all of these areas are connected. Are you worried that you could get oil this far inland?
MUTH: We‘re guardedly optimistic that because we‘re far enough inland and because there are so many places where they can fight the oil between us and them that we won‘t see oil this far inland. As everyone has said a million times, this is an unprecedented event. We‘ve never had a well that just continues to gush uncontrollably. I have no idea how long it will take.
So, no one is making a—you know, a categorical statement that we‘ll never get oil. Our biggest concern is that as we enter hurricane season—as I just told you—when we have a storm in the Gulf, a storm—even if it doesn‘t come ashore, it can push enormous amounts of water into this estuary. And once that happens, then a lot of that oil has the potential to come much farther inland, even into a fresh water swamp like that than we might otherwise have thought possible.
MADDOW: And that‘s, I mean, that‘s really the point. That gets you to the point from two directions. On the one hand, this—places like this are vulnerable. The combination of that much oil and big storms. On the other hand, places like this exist for a reason. If you get that much water, that much impact of big storms here, as you say, outside the hurricane defenses of New Orleans, this is a huge part of the hurricane defensive New Orleans. This is what protects the city.
MUTH: It is part of what protects the city. Absolutely. As I say, our boundary, or the hurricane protection level is for the west banks, the suburbs of the city.
MADDOW: David Muth from the National Park Service. And we are now joined by Dr. Larry McKinney who is the Executive Director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico studies at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi. Dr. McKinney, thanks for being here.
DR. LARRY MCKINNEY, HARTE RESEARCH INST., EXEC DIRECTOR: Great to be here.
MADDOW: In the big picture, over all, what makes—wetlands, how do we get land like this?
MCKINNEY: Well, it‘s a combination, one is the right types of soils, hydric soils. Of course, the topography has to allow that water to accumulate and the particular types of plants are here. But the big source of water, and what we have here is this in the Mississippi River feeding into this wetland and it really forms one of the great wetlands in the world because of that.
MADDOW: In terms of that overall, I guess, everything we‘ve got as a country in terms of wetlands, in the lower 48, what proportion of the wetlands that we have as a country are here in Louisiana?
MCKINNEY: Forty percent of this country‘s contiguous wetlands are here located in this area. That‘s why it so important that it is the bulk of our wetlands in the lower 48 states.
MADDOW: And how mow much are we losing? I know that we talk about—
David talking about where New Orleans started in terms of being on the natural levee. We think about the city obviously not physically moving towards shore—towards the shore, but the shore encroaching in towards the city, how—how much of these wetlands have we been losing and why?
MCKINNEY: Well, that‘s the tragedy of this thing. We‘re losing 25 to 30 square miles of wetlands a year here. Which basically during the time we‘re talking, maybe an area the size of a football field will have disappeared. And where that‘s coming from is oil and gas extraction, which is seeing the subsiding, then of course the canals that have been driven into the well sites are causing erosion. So it‘s a combination of erosion and subsidence is slowly eating these wetlands away.
MADDOW: David, can you explain how it is that wetlands like this, both the swampy wetlands that we are just standing and the marshy wetlands that we‘re looking over right now, how they actually insulate places like New Orleans from big storms. What is it that they do that lessens the impact of storms?
MUTH: Well, there are a number of factors. One of them is simply—and it sounds strange, it‘s just friction. Even water and waves are affected by friction. So, the farther that a storm has to push water across land, any kind of land, the more it‘s going to slow it down, the more it‘s going to take energy out of what‘s known as the storm surge. And there are lots of different calculations about, you know, how many miles of marsh produce how many—how much less of a storm surge. But that‘s a very important factor, and that‘s one of the reasons that the land loss has been so critical. Because the buffers that used to surround developed parts of South Louisiana, not just the city of New Orleans, but the communities to the south of us like Lafayette, or Cocodrie or Houma or anywhere else, they used to have miles and miles and miles of marsh between them in the gulf. They don‘t have as much anymore. And therefore, storms that used to not be that threatening become threatening. And then the super storms like the Katrina have become absolutely devastating.
MADDOW: Do you have a rule of thumb in terms of how much—what a square mile of wetland offers you in terms of protection from a storm surge?
MCKINNEY: Well, there are a number of ideas but one common wisdom is 2.7 miles, about three miles of wetlands will reduce storm surge by about a foot.
MADDOW: So, if we‘re losing 25 a year, we have been losing 25 a year every time you lose 2.7 miles of wetland, you‘re increasing the storm surge that‘s going to be borne by communities inside those wetlands by the way.
MCKINNEY: As you look at across these wetlands are going down towards the coast and you look on maps, you‘ll see open water. So, more and more that open water as it occurs, that allows—that reduces that friction that we were talking about, it allows the storm surge to come up through without being stopped by anything. So, that‘s really what we are concern was that at one time, this whole area down here was pretty much of a solid mass of wetlands. There were lots of little trails, I think, all natural, but no more. As you look at the map, can you see what‘s happened.
MADDOW: Well, let‘s get out on the water, if we can. I mean, to understand, I think the whole country is sort of started to understand the importance of wetlands after hurricane Katrina, started to learn about the causes of wetlands loss. Now to be thinking about this oil disaster as potentially catastrophic cause of wetlands loss, I think sort of the next step in understanding we haven‘t come to yet, let‘s see if we can help people visualize that by getting out on the water now.
What we saw when we got into that boat and went deep into the wetlands is coming up next. We‘ll be right back from New Orleans.
MADDOW: Today, to understand more about why this BP oil disaster could ultimately be as much about the survival of the city of New Orleans as it is about the Gulf of Mexico itself, we went out into the canals of the Barataria preserve. With David Muth, the Chief of Planning and Resource Stewardship for Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. As well, as Professor Larry McKinney, the Executive Director at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M in Corpus Christi. If you are ever asked to play trivial pursuit against these two guys, two choices. One or cheat, so they only get questions about entertainment. Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, David, can you tell us where we are right now? You‘re saying this is a very, very old canal.
MUTH: Yes. Right there is what‘s called Milodon (ph) canal, which was the name of the plantation on the river, this was a back canal, the plantations often dredged canals so that they could get out to natural waterways.
MADDOW: And Larry, when you‘re looking at a landscape like this, when you open marsh like this, if oil gets in here, or oil gets into landscape like this, what‘s the effect?
MCKINNEY: Well, it depends on how much oil is the course, but when it gets into, there‘s nothing you can do about it except leave it and hope that it recovers. Because, when you try to get into this type of things and clean them up, you do more damage than leaving it alone. So, that‘s why the strategy has to be to get that oil before it comes into these wetlands. Once it‘s in, you just have nothing but bad choices.
MADDOW: What are the best choices in terms of protecting land like this from oil encroachment? Obviously, the way that we‘ve seen the oil come ashore right now, it‘s been here there, hit and miss, shipping up, turning out in places that are expected, it‘s not real predictable flow.
MCKINNEY: No. And that‘s the problem. It‘s not going to be and they try the best they can, they try to protect the most sensitive areas but the oil is coming in under the water, and under the booms and that type of thing. As we have storms, it‘s going to wash over those booms. So, the best thing can happen is to stop the oil flow period, and try to let the marsh recover.
MADDOW: David, in terms of what Larry just saying about cleaning oil out of a site like this, do you think there‘s any cleanup techniques that work? Do you just have to leave it? Is there anything that you can imagine that would work if there were oil in a place like this?
MUTH: Often the cleanup is more destructive than the oil. And if you just imagine the “Exxon Valdez” where they could take high pressure water and blast oil off rocks and everything, you blast high pressure water here and you‘re going to literally tear the marsh apart.
MUTH: So, I agree. I don‘t think there‘s any—I can‘t conceive of any kind of cleanup that could happen here. And it‘s not just the marshes. You can see here. We‘ve got, you know, we‘ve got aquatic vegetation below the surface, that‘s where the young fish are, that‘s where the young shrimp, the young crabs, the whole system would be fouled.
MADDOW: And here‘s, I guess, where it all comes together. There‘s some ways to try to hope that it doesn‘t get here. Mostly you‘re just trying to shut off the oil flow. There‘s not that great a way to protect it. Once it gets in here, it‘s not that great a way to clean it. And you do, as you said, Larry, you do just have to leave it. But once these things have been oiled, if the vegetation has suffocated, don‘t these wetlands disappear? Don‘t they just erode?
MCKINNEY: Well, eventually, that‘s what‘s going to happen here. I mean, eventually—we‘ll hope this oil spill will end. We hope that it will. And when the oil gets into these wetlands, it will kill the plants in the surface. Hopefully it doesn‘t get down in the roots. But when it does, and if it does that, then what happens is the whole system breaks down and basically it begins to eat itself. And so, the wetlands will come back and will produce a lot of fish and shrimp and things like that for a few years afterwards, but after that it turns downhill and it turns more and more into open water. And open water is not what you want in these wetlands. These wetlands—
MADDOW: I‘m sorry to slow you down, but the vegetation dies, the vegetation is what‘s holding the soil that‘s here together. As the vegetation dies off it immediately becomes a great food source in the short term, but that—then, essentially of the soil erodes, you end up with open water, you‘ve lose everything, the wetland offers.
MCKINNEY: That‘s why, I mean, these plants are everything here. They‘re a food source, they‘re habitat source and they hold the whole system together. When disappear, all of that goes. And as it breaks down though, it releases huge amounts of nutrients. And these animals here are very capable taking care, taking use of those nutrients and really exploding a population. So, we‘ll see a period after this is over, we‘ll think it‘s been recovered, the shrimp will be back, the red fish will be here. But then a few years after that, it will slowly go downhill because it will be open water, it won‘t be the wetland plants that made this thing what it was.
MADDOW: In terms of this spot that were in right now, David and what the park service is doing in some of the other areas in the park service that have been oiled, what preparations do you make seeing this disaster sort of looming off some—all this property, some of which is park service property? How do you prepare?
MUTH: What the park service has been trying to do is first to get base line data, to come in and take water samples and soil samples and to get photographs, so that we have something to compare with if there is damage. And so that when, when and if oil arrives, we can demonstrate what it is that the oil has done to the system in order to get recovery from the responsible party.
MADDOW: Larry, I know that at the Harte Institute, you were able to make some estimates of what magnitude of the potential damage here about what this oil disaster might do in terms of loss of wetlands. What kind of estimates were you able to come up with?
MCKINNEY: Well, we used an estimate of a half million acres, and we thought that was actually worst case and if that were the case, we looked at the acres terms provided by these wetlands with the flood services and the filtration, plus commercial and recreational fishing and basically, our number hit at $1.6 billion per year in losses.
MADDOW: Five hundred thousand acres of wetlands lost, associated with this spill, that was your early ballpark guess?
MCKINNEY: Early and worst case scenario. We just tried to pick a number that some folks would give us advice, the worst thing that could happen is this. And of course, as this thing goes on, I‘m not so sure that maybe the worst case anymore.
MADDOW: For national audience, trying to get our heads around what this means. In terms of communicating this to people who never been to Louisiana, haven‘t seen landscapes like this, I‘ve never seen anything like this before today. How important is this for the country?
MCKINNEY: Well, people may not realize it, but 40 percent of the entire United States drains right here and creates these wetlands. So, everything we do upstream in Nebraska, or Iowa or any of those states, that comes here to the Mississippi River. And so, we have to deal with it. One thing that happens here, because the system can‘t handle it anymore, we have a 5,000-square-mile dead zone off the beach here, off the river here every year. So, we‘ve got that. We have been extracting oil and gas out of these wetlands for many years, that‘s been a great service state, 40 percent of our crude oil comes from the Gulf of Mexico, 20 percent from these wetlands here. These very wetlands produce more seafood than the entire east coast of the United States. So, basically, we‘re going to talk about—this is basically, it‘s America‘s toilet, it‘s America‘s sushi bar and it‘s our gas station.
MADDOW: Never combine those three things.
MCKINNEY: -- But that‘s really where we are. That‘s what this is, this thing is a huge, the whole delta down here is a huge treatment plant for the central part of the United States.
MCKINNEY: And we unfortunately have not been treating it very well. But the point is, this is an amazingly resilient system. Because it can take all this punishment, it has been taking all this punishment and still produce fish and shellfish in the quantities that it did. The concern is that how many times can it get knocked down? You have, Katrina, you have Ivan, you have Rita, now you have this oil spill coming in here, just keeps hammering this system. And frankly, you know, you can only be knocked down so many times before you can‘t get back up and that‘s the big concern for all of us.
MADDOW: What could be done differently in terms of policy, in terms of engineering approaches, to take better care of this whole delta, this whole wetlands ecosystem than we‘re already doing?
MCKINNEY: Well, I think it comes down to two points, Rachel. One is we all have to understand, the entire country has to understand what we have at stake here and be willing to step up and restore these wetlands. And—get the water back into these wetlands, feeding those nutrients and rebuilding them again, we can do that. And the second is we‘re going to continue to need oil and gas. We‘re going to have to deal with that. But we cannot do it as we have done. Clearly, there are many things we need to look at as far as making that as safe as possible. Because what is at risk is what we‘re sitting in right now and we can‘t afford that risk.
MADDOW: Yes, absolutely. Well, Larry, David, thank you both so much.
I really appreciate your time and expertise helping us to understand this. You‘ve both freaked me out and totally enlightened me which is the best combination for a day in the swamp. Thank you guys.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, New Orleans is a lot of things, including authentic, and historic, and beautiful and resilient. What New Orleans is not is the city of no. At least not if we can help it, and I think we can. That item is coming up. Please stay with us.
MADDOW: So, we‘re driving down to the National Historical Park and Reserve here to see this amazing, amazing, amazing sample of Southern Louisiana wetlands. We are on our way to the wetlands and what do we pass?
A giant microcosm of the problem. Here on what used to be wetlands and is
now fill is a giant new subdivision. They‘ve got all the model homes open
today for people to come see if they want to live here on what might have
quite recently been land that would have saved New Orleans and is now the
exact thing that might doom New Orleans.
MADDOW: We are live in New Orleans tonight with all of our bug
friends who we‘ve been missing so much since we were here last month. Hi, you guys. That doesn‘t mean that were not still the place for politics.
Last night in Alabama, Incumbent Republican Congressman Parker Griffith lost his own primary. Didn‘t even make the runoff. He only got 33 percent of the vote. Important thing to remember about incumbent Congressman Parker Griffith, he had only been a Republican for about six months. Mr. Griffith was elected as a Democrat in 2008 and he switched parties last December to the Republicans. According to the “Huntsville Times,” Mr. Griffith took the slinking out of the room quietly approach to his loss. He didn‘t appear at his own campaign reception. He instead e-mailed out his concession statements.
And the Democratic primary for the governor‘s race in Alabama, another bucking his own party‘s sitting member of Congress, also got the short end of the election stick. It was Congressman Arthur Davis who got trounced. He only got 38 percent of the vote in the primary. Mr. Davis was technically a Democrat, but he did vote against health reform last fall and he did essentially campaign against all things Democratic Party. Although Mr. Davis is African American and his primary opponent is white, all four major African American political organizations in the state of Alabama endorsed the white opponent. Had Mr. Davis won the democratic primary and then the general election, he would have been only the third black governor in United States history. He would have been the first black governor in Alabama, the state from which infamous segregationist Governor George Wallace hailed.
Speaking of George Wallace, George Wallace Jr. was also on the ballot yesterday in Alabama in a race that wins for most name worthy contest in the country. You had George Wallace Jr. pitted against probably the single best politician name in the entire nation, a man named Young Boozer. That was in the Republican primary for Alabama state treasurer. Mr. Young Boozer won that contest 65 to 35. We will have lots more election coverage for you on Tuesday. They are calling it super Tuesday. A little bit of the stretch, but it is a pretty great Tuesday. There will be races in 12 states across the country from Maine to California. We hope you will join us for all the dramatic results and even more dramatic clapping and giggling in response to the exciting election animations.
Mark your calendars. Tuesday, election day again. Democracy. Whoo-hoo. See you there.
MADDOW: We‘re off to Grand Isle, Louisiana, for tomorrow‘s show to take firsthand look at what BP and the Federal government are doing to try to mitigate the disaster now happening in the gulf and on the shoreline. But before we go, I got one last item to note about the city of New Orleans and its place on the internets. In researching stuff for tonight‘s show, I came up on an unfortunate online idiosyncrasy about this great city, the official URL, the official website address for New Orleans is cityofno.com. Which is fine when you say it like that and then, actually looks great, when you visit the site, right? It‘s a fine looking website here it is, which you can pay your parking tickets, you can pay you real estate taxes. You can find out all about the city of no. However, when you read the address, when you see the point of your browser, it is the less fortunate picture. New Orleans is http://www.cityofno.com” Www.cityofno.com when you dial it up on your internet machine. City of no. That is not right.
New Orleans isn‘t the city of no, it is anything but whenever we come to New Orleans we are the beneficiaries of the incredible hospitality, the amazing vistas, the living history, the incomparable music, the amazing food, many of the exquisite cocktails of this great American city. And the best we can usually do in return is to spend some money and say thank you. Tonight we are going to try to do better than that.
The Rachel Maddow Show today acquired the domain names, www.cityofyes.us, as well as http://www.cityofhellno.com.” For the moment, each of these will redirect you to the Maddow blog but we are merely holding them for the city of New Orleans which is welcome to either or both free of charge. New Orleans is not the city of no. So, we hope the good people here will take us up on our offer, it‘s truly the least we can do for everything, the city of no has done for us. You bet.
That‘s all for us tonight here in New Orleans. We‘ll see you again tomorrow night as I said from Grand Isle, Louisiana, in Jefferson Parish. Until then, check our Maddow blog online, maddowblog.msnbc.com. There is more material there now. From our trip through the wetlands today, including a very close encounter with a green tree frog who I think hated me. Anyway, check it out yourself.
“Countdown” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Have a great night.
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