'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, June 3rd, 2010
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Guests: Bob Graham, William Reilly, Mike Blum, Charlie Melancon
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thank you very much for that.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
I am in Grand Isle, Louisiana, tonight. I was here all day. And to put it to you directly, what I saw here was overwhelming.
In just a while, you will see some of it for yourself, both out in the water and on shore—oil, big globs of oil everywhere, and no signs of any effective effort to stop it from spreading.
We‘ll also be joined later here in Grand Isle by the congressman who represents just about all of the affected coastline in Louisiana, Charlie Melancon.
And in just a moment, former Senator Bob Graham and former EPA administrator, William Reilly, the co-chairs of President Obama‘s new oil spill commission will join us together live.
This is all important news and it‘s all ahead this hour.
But first, we are coming to you, live, as I said, tonight from Grand Isle, Louisiana—just one location amid the 140 miles of Louisiana shoreline that have been hit by oil from the blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico. We were out in that oil earlier today out in the bay and beaches.
Tonight, other states are preparing themselves for a similar scene. Coastal communities along Alabama and Mississippi and Florida are now watching that oil in the Gulf surging toward them as well.
What you‘re looking at here is the preparation that‘s happening in those communities to try to keep as much oil off their coasts as possible. It looks a lot like the preparations that we‘ve been seeing here in Louisiana. If you‘re looking at these preparations and thinking, neat, but it looks a little pitiful, then you share my impression. That‘s what it feels like looking at this on tape. That‘s what it feels like being out in it, too.
B.P.‘s CEO Tony Hayward has just done a remarkable interview with “The Financial Times” newspaper about whether or not his company and the oil industry in general ever put much thought into how to deal with a crisis like this. The short answer is no. The industry put a lot of thought into creating the condition that‘s could cause a crisis like this, but not much thought at all into how to deal with the crisis once it happened.
Mr. Hayward telling “The Financial Times,” quote, “What is undoubtedly true is that we did not have the tools you would want in your tool kit.” Hayward accepted it was, quote, “an entirely fair criticism to say the company had not been fully prepared for a deep-water oil leak.”
So even though B.P. was granted permission by the U.S. government to drill this well, the CEO of that company now acknowledges they weren‘t prepared to respond to a leak at that well that they drilled. Mr. Hayward went on to explain, quote, “After the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, the industry created the Marine Spill Response Corporation to contain oil on the surface of the water. The issue now will be to create the same subsea response capability.”
Think about that for a second. In 1989, after the Exxon Valdez, the oil industry started working on how to clean oil off the surface of the water. The head of B.P. says maybe now, in 2010, the industry should think about starting to work on how to deal with oil leaking underwater.
What‘s been going on between 1989 and now? Well, the industry‘s been setting record after record for drilling oil in deeper and deeper and deeper water—bragging about it all the way. Back in 1989, the deepest they‘d ever drilled was less than 1,800 feet. Now it‘s over 10,000 feet.
Here‘s Transocean bragging in 2003 of setting a, quote, “new world water-depth drilling record by spudding a well in 10,011 feet of water in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. The previous world water-depth drilling record was 9,727 feet of water.”
Here‘s a 2008 Shell Oil press release, quote, “Shell Oil Company has set a water-depth record in drilling and completing a subsea well, 9,356 feet below the water‘s surface.” Woo-hoo, we did it! We‘re awesome.
The achievement that the oil industry has been bragging about since 1989 and trading on since 1989 and selling to their potential investors, ever since the Exxon Valdez, they have to do with their ability to drill deeper, to drill miles and miles beneath the surface of the ocean. They have spent a lot of time bragging about that and a lot of time counting their money.
Here are the top five most profitable companies in the world last year. Notice something that connects them? All five of them are oil and gas companies, every single one of them—including B.P., which comes in at number five, as can you see there.
Over the past couple of decades as the oil industry has made the kind of profit that turns saints into sinners and sinners into kings, that industry has made an overt choice. They have chosen to spend their hand over fist money on learning how to drill more, how to drill deeper. They could have spent those resources, some of them, maybe, on developing new cleanup technology, new containment technology for spills, but they didn‘t. They can say they did, if they want to, but who cares what they say at this point?
It‘s clear that they didn‘t. If they had done it, the response out here to this spill would not be so pitiful.
Booms that do not work and aren‘t put out right. Bamboo pickets to hold the boom in place that doesn‘t hold the boom in place at the first sign of a slight wind.
Diversion barriers that don‘t divert the oil, not really.
Nothing but denial to even approach dealing with the undersea crude plumes.
Workers shoveling and raking oil off beaches, standing in the same spot, shoveling and raking all day long for 12 hours without moving, because you shovel it away and then you wait a minute and then you shovel again and, hey, look, it‘s still there.
Looking at the technology that we‘ve got to deal with the oil that‘s already leaked, it‘s like—I felt today we were driving around and we‘re talking to people who were out in the oil, I felt I was watching real humans trying to act out the plot from a “MacGyver” episode in real life. You know how MacGyver would make like a nuclear bomb with a match stick and a piece of his own hair and some silly putty.
Workers here are trying to achieve something that difficult with means that humble. And the problem is that none of us really is MacGyver, and none of it works. There‘s nothing romantic about the stuff that we saw here today. It is disgusting.
And the response effort is inadequate. It is pitiful. And the reason the response is so pitiful, is because the people who make messes like this have apparently put no though into how to clean up messes like this in decades. And they‘ve gotten away with it.
In 1989, the thing that led the oil industry to create the Marine Spill Response Corporation was the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. It was the sort of thing that everybody thought at the time maybe could even put Exxon out of business. But by the time the Supreme Court got around to lowering the damages Exxon was due to pay, nearly 20 years later, in 2008, Exxon was the most profitable corporation the universe has ever known—posting the highest profits ever recorded by any company of any kind in any country ever.
Exxon Valdez did not take down Exxon, and Deepwater Horizon, in all likelihood, is not going to take down B.P. Nothing—no level of disaster has ever caused this industry to pay significant mind toward safety, particularly toward the safety of areas affected by oil that they spill—the result of which we‘re seeing right now in the Gulf.
Is any of that going to ever change? Could this disaster change it?
Joining us now are the co-chairs of President Obama‘s new oil spill commission which was established to examine why this spill happened and what reforms are needed to prevent something like it from happening again. That commission is chaired by former Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida and William Reilly, the former EPA administrator under the first President Bush.
Senator Graham, Administrator Reilly, thank you both so much for making time for us tonight.
FMR. SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), B.P. OIL SPILL COMMISSION CO-CHAIR: Thank you, Rachel.
WILLIAM K. REILLY, B.P. OIL SPILL COMMISSION CO-CHAIR: Good to be with you.
MADDOW: Senator—thank you.
Senator Graham, I‘ll ask you first. I know you‘ve just been tasked with looking into this disaster. But based on what you‘ve seen with this industry, what you know about it thus far, how can the country be approving drilling when the companies don‘t know how to clean it up, if something goes wrong at the depths at which we are approving them to drill?
GRAHAM: Rachel, you‘re absolutely right. And that is one of the many questions we‘re going to be asking. I can tell you that Bill and I are committed to doing a thorough diagnosis of what‘s happened, both before the explosion, after the explosion. We also are going to be making some tough recommendations to the president, the American people, as to what we can do to give the American people the confidence that we are going to learn this lesson and not repeat it.
MADDOW: Administrator Reilly, I know that you were EPA director when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound in 1989. What major advancements in safety and cleanup technology have oil companies made over the last 20 or 30 years? Are there any real major advancements? This feels like real old-fashioned technology out here.
REILLY: You know, you put your finger on it, in your opening remarks. The extraordinary success of this industry in developing technology to go deeper and deeper into the sea to put down a well, essential well, and then go out in all directions to get the product up is breathtaking.
And the condition, as nearly as I can tell from looking at the photographs and movies from what‘s happening in the Gulf, is that the response technology is about as primitive as it was in the Exxon Valdez case. That is the skimmers that are dysfunctional in the open ocean, the booms that break, as you say, with the slightest wave action, dispersant that are not ready for primetime that may or may not be toxic, something that has to be determined in the event, which seems to me ought to have been anticipated, with impact some fish that really need to be very carefully acknowledged and may or may not have been.
I would say that it‘s really scandalous that the response capability, even on the surface, not just the sub-surface where we have admittedly a case of virtually nothing to work effectively is really going to be a prime focus of our review and has got to be a major priority of the commission.
MADDOW: Do you believe that the government has the power to force, essentially, the industry to develop better capacity in that regard?
REILLY: Yes. I think the government has the power—it‘s a question of how you create the right regulatory incentives. And a regulatory apparatus that is serious, that monitors, that engages, that doesn‘t just provide a blank check for new development.
Admittedly, nobody thought this kind of thing could happen because it hasn‘t happened before. But it did happen. And it doesn‘t seem unreasonable, especially since there were response plans prepared by the company, that did, at least in theory, contemplate serious spill, that we weren‘t better prepared for it.
MADDOW: Of course, things like this have happened before, they just never happened at this depth. Part of the problem—part of the problem with the company telling us with all of their techniques it‘s never been tried before at 5,000 feet.
Senator Graham, President Obama is promising to triple the man power down here. That was the last promise that he made here in terms of just human resources. I was out today, I saw a lot of boom out here. That was just a mess, not very effect, not being monitored, not being set back up after the wind knocks it down.
But, sir, what the oil industry puts out every time a disaster like this happened, do you worry that some of this stuff is just out here to make us feel better even though it‘s not very effective?
GRAHAM: Well, that would be tragedy on top of tragedy if people were being deceived that the appearance that there‘s a serious effort to clean it up is not being fulfilled with actual efforts. I think the federal government has a responsibility to see that every possible step is taken to both shut down this well and to clean this mess up.
I happen to be a Floridian. I know how terrified people are in my state as to what the potential consequences could be—potential, which may in the next few hours become reality.
The American government has a responsibility to its people to protect them and to assure that when it licenses an operation that it assumes the responsibility to see that operation is conducted at the highest level of safety and capacity to respond to realistically possible circumstances such as this certainly was. I think that if there‘s not that full effort, the American people‘s outrage is fully justified.
MADDOW: Mr. Reilly, you, of course, are the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the former president of the World Wildlife Fund. But I have to say, honestly, it is discomforting to me that somebody who is co-chairing the inquiry into this disaster is also on the board of two oil industry companies right now, on the board of Conoco Phillips and of DuPont.
Is that a conflict of interest? Are you planning to step down from those boards at least for the duration of the inquiry?
REILLY: Yes, there‘s been a filing with the SEC and I will take a leave of absence on the board of Conoco Phillips. DuPont is not an oil company. DuPont‘s a very different company that has no interest in any issues we‘re likely to address.
GRAHAM: Rachel, I have—can I say something?
I‘ve known Bill for 25 or more years. He is a man not only of great intelligence and integrity, but a person who has a deep concern for the protection of our most treasured environments. And I am proud to be serving with him and I can tell you that the two of us and the other five members of this commission are going to do a thorough diagnosis, autopsy of this situation, and we‘re going to present where the facts lead, our recommendations as to what can be done, give the American people the assurance that this will never happen again.
MADDOW: Senator Graham, I don‘t—I don‘t ask the question in order to impugn Mr. Riley‘s integrity by—absolutely not by any means. What I‘m concerned about is the ultimate implementability of recommendations of this commission—and recommendations that I hope are going to be as stern as the scene down here is upsetting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MADDOW: And the appearance of a conflict of interest or divided interests for having association with a company like Conoco Phillips that frankly is in business with B.P. on drilling projects, is something that I worry will affect the perceived integrity of the commission and the implementability of its recommendations.
MADDOW: So, I understand—yes, go ahead, sir.
REILLY: Rachel, I just—I have to say, I—that was the first issue I raised when I was asked to take on this responsibility, whether it was consistent with my previous history. Now, I was given to understand that the president considered it an advantage, that I do know the industry and have experience with it.
And if you have any question about how I‘m likely to approach this, look at the enforcement record I established at EPA, where more assess more fines and penalties in my four years than the previous 18-year history of the agency.
MADDOW: Absolutely. Mr. Bill Reilly, Senator Graham, two co-chairs of the national oil spill commission looking into this disaster, not only why it happened, but the failures that led it to be possible, the country is looking to you both for leadership and some boldness on this, and I thank you for your time tonight, sirs. Thank you.
REILLY: Thank you, Rachel.
GRAHAM: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, you can‘t fully comprehend how bad the B.P. oil disaster is until you have seen it for yourself. At the risk of inviting you all down here which might be overwhelming, I went out on a boat into the Gulf today to check it out myself. That one is coming up next. We are live from Grand Isle, Louisiana.
Please do stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We‘re in the Caminada Bay. This is Barataria Pass out there which leads to the Gulf of Mexico. And this gives you a sense of sort of how subtle some of this impact seems, even when you‘re right out in it.
If can you see right now, there‘s almost a distinction in the way the texture of the water looks. This is sort of normal water, what you‘d expect it to look, sort of slightly choppy conditions like this. But you see how it‘s got a totally different texture right there where it‘s a little ripply on the water? It‘s got—it almost looks like there‘s a skin on the water, a real thin skin, that means there‘s oil here.
This is essentially what oil sheen looks like out here. It doesn‘t look like it does in a horror movie, the sense of horror that you get from looking at something like this is realizing: A, that we‘re right in the middle of a sheen, and, B, it goes as far as the eye can see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We are here in Grand Isle, Louisiana, tonight. And today, in between thunderstorms, I was out on the water in Caminada Bay and in Barataria Bay, to get what turned out to be a lesson in how not to respond to an oil spill.
MADDOW: If you know absolutely nothing about how to use boom to protect shoreline from oil, from anything encroaching that you want to keep off that shoreline, if you know absolutely nothing about, it you probably still know enough to know that this isn‘t supposed to be what it looks like.
What we‘re seeing right here—we‘re in Caminada Bay, which is just sort of in the backwaters off Grand Isle, Louisiana. What you see here is the absorbent boom piled up on this little barrier island, on this little land here.
And you see these bamboo poles they‘re sticking up and this big line out here? The bamboo poles all behind me stretched all out here. The bamboo poles—those are supposed to be the anchor holding that absorbent boom in place. It‘s not working all that well.
We‘re here with Dr. Mike Blum from Tulane. He‘s professor of coastal marsh ecology.
Mike, thanks for coming out here with us.
MIKE BLUM, TULANE UNIVERSITY: You‘re welcome. Happy to be here.
MADDOW: Is this—this isn‘t right, right?
BLUM: No, it‘s not doing its job as deployed and as designed. You would hope it would be anchored in place. And even under inclement weather conditions, and we‘re not actually having all that bad weather today.
BLUM: A couple mile an hour winds. You can see that it gets pushed off the anchors and it gets pushed out on to the marshlands.
MADDOW: When we think about the different technology that‘s available, not to stop the blown-out well, not to even to prevent that blown-out well from blowing out, not even to try to get the oil out of the water, but just to try to keep the oil offshore, essentially what we‘re talking about is absorbent booms like this, the other—the other kind of booms that are essentially have a different name.
BLUM: We have booms that can—
MADDOW: Diversion booms.
BLUM: -- divert the oil, contain the oil.
MADDOW: So, you either absorb the oil with these booms. You divert the oil with the other solid booms.
MADDOW: Or that‘s it? Is there anything else?
BLUM: That‘s about it, except we do have pom-poms, we have mats, absorbent mats that once oil has been received into the marsh, you want to absorb it, you want to take it out of that marsh, and just for technical terms, often referred to as pom-poms, absorbent mats.
MADDOW: OK. But that‘s once the—that once—that‘s once the oil has actually come on shore.
BLUM: That‘s right. That‘s right.
MADDOW: All right. So, my sense, just as a layman who doesn‘t know anything about this—is that we‘re not very good at keeping oil offshore once it‘s in the water.
BLUM: No. So, if you contrast the technological aspects of this, we have bamboo poles and absorbent mats relative to billion dollar investments in drilling technology, highly advanced drilling technology, that allows us to reach in to depths of over a mile offshore. And certainly, there‘s been great investment and great need for that drilling technology—but there‘s an equal need for investment in response efforts.
MADDOW: And how much have response efforts gotten better over the last 30 years? As drilling has gotten deeper and deeper and deeper, and oil companies have gotten more and more and more profitable to the point where you can‘t even write fairy tales about it without sounding like too crazy, how much have—how much improvement has there been in the technology for when things go wrong?
BLUM: Most of the investment in terms of intellectual capacity and research was made around 1979 through the late ‘80s. And since then it‘s about the late ‘80s, very little work has been done, very little research dollars have been invested in response efforts. Even understanding remediation technologies, how do you go about understanding what‘s available in the natural communities, what kind of simple technologies, what kind of advanced technologies can be implemented—very little progress has been made over the last 25 years.
MADDOW: So, as an academic, as a professor working in this field, are there endowed, you know, professorships and graduate programs that are supported by the industry to try to get the academic side of this—the intellectual side of this, sort of intellectual fire power directed toward these things or no?
BLUM: No. No. Certainly, there are individual efforts and there‘s certainly individual interest in investing in research towards remediation and recovery. But, by and far, it has been outpaced by the investment made in engineering and drilling technologies.
Talking about ecology for the moment, one of the issues, when you have a sheen like this—it prevents gas exchange. So, the oxygen gets trapped or it gets stripped out of the water and the soil as microbes degrade the oil. So, you‘ve got a surface coating, you don‘t get oxygen exchange, then you get microbe that are basically taking all the oxygen out of the water. It‘s like a big dead zone, essentially.
MADDOW: There‘s dead zones out here that preceded the spill in terms of runoff from the Mississippi, right?
BLUM: Exactly. So, on an annual basis, every summer, a big dead zone surfaces due to influx of fertilization, fertilizers from the Midwest, all the way up through the Ohio River Valley get deposited off the shore of Mississippi—vast dead zone, hundreds of square kilometers. So, something like that can potentially happen with the oil.
MADDOW: So, you get this real thin sheen on the top of the water, but then you get these glops. Captain who we‘re with here says that when it gets warm, it spreads out real thin. Overnight, it tends to clump up more. Sometimes out here in the morning, this is more of what you‘ll see than out here after the full day of heat on it.
What‘s that slogan? What‘s their logo, “Beyond Petroleum”? You almost see when you first see it in the water like this, you think it‘s a piece of trash, you know, or some sort of litter out here. Maybe even some sort of dead sea life. Then you notice it‘s got a gas station sheen around it.
That‘s the consistency of the stuff that‘s floating out here in blobs. You can see there‘s some vegetation here that it‘s glopped on to. That‘s what it‘s like.
You know, you see it on camera and you think, you want to touch it and sort of see what it‘s like. Once you see it in person and smell it, the desire to touch it goes away. See, that doesn‘t come off.
“Beyond Petroleum,” my ass.
MADDOW: While we were out on the water today, we went to a very small island at the mouth of Barataria Bay, a very small island that is swamped with oil. We really wanted to see it and we learned something from being there. But I‘ve got to tell you, being there was one of the grossest things I have ever done in my life, and I‘ve done some gross things.
The pretty unbelievable footage we shot there and the scary things we learned about what‘s happening to islands like that—coming up next.
MADDOW: We‘re here in Grand Isle, Louisiana, which is a very lovely place. Today, I got way too up close and not at all personal with some big blobs of oil out in Caminada Bay. That was vile in the bay.
But when Tulane Professor Mike Blum and I got to a nearby island that had been soaked in oil, I unlearned my previous definition of the word “vile” because it found it just needed updating.
MADDOW: All right. So, we‘re at the mouth of Barataria Bay?
MIKE BLUM, TULANE UNIVERSITY: Exactly.
MADDOW: And, obviously, there‘s a lot of oil. You have the same sort of globs that we saw out in the sea on the way—out in the bay on the way over here, this is what they look like on land. This is my favorite pen. Not anymore.
What I want to know is once oil does make landfall like this, what happens? Does oil move in marshland in a way that we don‘t really understand?
BLUM: Well, what we understand now is when oil gets deposited by wave action like we‘re seeing right now, it accumulates. It goes right to the soil, and it coats the soil. So you don‘t get gas exchange, you get basically an anoxic layer where nothing can breath.
MADDOW: Anoxic, meaning no—blocking oxygen.
BLUM: No oxygen.
MADDOW: So, this obviously is not very substantial, small island that we‘re on, with oil coating it, becomes less substantial, more subject to erosion. This island is in danger of going away because this oil is on it.
BLUM: Exactly. So, with the oil coating the surfaces of the soil and plants, if it is sufficient enough like it is right now, you can see it kills plants right where it comes into contact, by just suffocating the plants. You lose the anchor the plants provide and you get rapid erosion of the islands. These are the islands that endangered species or imperiled species like the brown pelican use as roosts and recreates.
MADDOW: So, Mike, even to get here, we had to go past this sort of line of absorbent boom here. And some of it is clearly doing—stopping some oil. I mean, it‘s obviously soiled and it‘s playing some role. But we didn‘t drive over boom to get here. There‘s obviously a big break in it and this stuff is not set up in a way that looks like it could be effective.
Booming isn‘t worthless. It‘s just being done in a worthless way, right?
BLUM: Right. So, the way that boom is being implemented, it‘s not being effective. It‘s not as efficient as the technology could provide. What we need are more people out in the ground implementing and maintaining the boom in place. And there‘s certainly thousands of people potentially available to implement boom effectively.
If they were trained and if they were deployed well, then we‘d have much more protection than what we have right now.
MADDOW: So, big picture, as research and development in the oil industry have been devoted almost solely in the big picture toward drilling, toward more production, and not toward mitigation and cleanup efforts, mitigation and cleanup technology has stayed the same. It‘s not pointless, but it does require a lot of manpower and a lot of attention.
BLUM: That‘s right.
MADDOW: And whatever manpower is being devoted right now to the Gulf region, it‘s clearly not enough to get the booming right.
BLUM: No. So, booming, again, is a first line of defense. It could actually provide a second and a third line of defense if implemented well.
One thing that is really worthwhile to point out is that there are thousands of people calling in to B.P., indicating that there are technologies under development and potentially available for implementation. The problem is that it takes years to evaluate effectiveness. And so, we have a history of booming. We know how it works and we know potentially how to implement it.
These alternative technologies that could potentially be put in place, there hasn‘t been testing. There hasn‘t been any sort of evaluation process. So, even though you may have the best solution available, you have to go through proper channels. You have to go through a timeline to indicate that this thing—that technology is worthwhile for further investment.
MADDOW: And that most of the technology, most of the resources, most of the research done toward cleanup and containment tech happened in the late ‘70s, ‘80s, hasn‘t been the focus since then.
MADDOW: They‘ve been too busy counting their money.
BLUM: Well—so the investments that could be made by B.P. and other petroleum organizations for technologies like boom or alternative technologies, if you think about it in terms of product development—the timelines for product development can stretch from years to decades.
BLUM: And we certainly have had the time. We‘ve had plenty of lessons learned since the late 1970s when Ixtoc I exploded. That‘s a good indication there is a need. But from a commercial perspective, there hasn‘t been that drive or that investment for implementation.
MADDOW: So, thinking about research that hasn‘t been done, technology that hasn‘t been tested, better idea that‘s haven‘t been pursued, there‘s this whole issue of dispersant and essentially the argument was—well, we know dispersant is toxic, but better to put toxic dispersant on the oil so as to avoid concentrated clumps of oil to coming up ashore. The dispersant might make that less prevalent. And so, therefore, it‘s a lesser of two evils.
What do you think about that?
BLUM: So, when dispersant was applied offshore, we clearly didn‘t know what the consequences were. Hadn‘t been actually experimented on, the conditions were unknown.
And what we know now, even from the little research that‘s been done on this, if have you a comparison, if you have alternatives of no oil, obviously, the best, oil or dispersed oil. Dispersed oil has the potential for being more toxic and having a much more dramatic impact on shoreline conditions, on marshes than just oil by itself.
It‘s amazingly concentrated. You‘d think that just by washing it off it would come off, but - but—I‘m really—the dispersant is just a fancy soap.
MADDOW: So, the dispersant makes the oil worse?
MADDOW: For dealing with it ecologically.
BLUM: Exactly. So, if you think about it, these clumps—it‘s
certainly something that potentially is more manageable. You can see that
they have the potential for being naturally broken down by tidal flux and
by just physical action.
BLUM: Dispersed oil creates a sheen that penetrates the soil. And again, it removes the potential for oxygen exchange. And so, you‘re talking about a situation which you can‘t even really see what‘s going on. But more or less, there‘s no oxygen.
And without oxygen, you lose plants, you lose animals, you lose fish. Everything that you want to sustain in a marsh is going to be potentially taken away.
MADDOW: The congressman for this endangered and beautiful area of Louisiana is Charlie Melancon. He joins us next.
As our coverage of the B.P. oil disaster continues, now with 100 percent more rage—I also want to show you this. This is a live look at the well from B.P. We‘ve been watching this all day, of course, as have many people online. It‘s the effort by B.P. to try to get the cap on to the well at the Deepwater Horizon site. You can see there‘s plenty of oil there, but you can also see that cap as they‘re trying to fit it down over that still-gushing well.
We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: President Obama will be here in south Louisiana tomorrow. Secret Service will probably clear out all the bugs ahead of his visit, I‘m guessing. It will be the president‘s third trip to the state since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20th.
If you want to think what‘s happened since that explosion as, say, a war on oil, a fight against the resulting tide of oil from that explosion, a fight to save our country from that oil, then Grand Isle, where we are right now, could reasonably be considered the front lines of that fight.
What you‘re seeing on this map are the federal and state fishing restrictions. The water is now closed to recreational and commercial fishing. And this is Louisiana‘s third congressional district, represented by Democrat Charlie Melancon, who joins us now.
Congressman, thank you so much for being here. It‘s nice to have you here.
REP. CHARLIE MELANCON (D), LOUISIANA: It‘s good to be here.
MADDOW: Let me begin with the issue of manpower in this cleanup operation. This is something I didn‘t expect coming down here today. I thought I‘d see a lot more people working on booms, working on the beach, cleaning stuff up. I didn‘t see—I know people are here, I didn‘t see that many of them and I saw a lot of areas affected by oil.
Are you satisfied that there‘s enough of a response in terms of people here?
MELANCON: Well, there‘s never going to be enough, particularly with the continuing flow of the well—possibly there would be enough if we‘d shut the well in by now.
MELANCON: But that‘s the dilemma and that‘s the frustration. That‘s what‘s building the anxiety of the people that are here, is that after Katrina and Rita and Gustav and Ike, they thought they‘d been through the worst. And where you are here in Grand Isle got physically every one of those storms. And then, now, it seems to be the focal point of where the oil seems to want to come ashore.
MADDOW: And, of course, the difference between disasters like this and disasters of those magnitude—the magnitude of those hurricanes which, of course, was epic here. The difference here is that you can‘t just rebuild after the oil slick. There‘s the ongoing pollution issues, challenge the way of life here in a way that‘s hard to imagine getting better in years, if not decades.
MELANCON: You know, we‘ve talked about the cure for cancer, and, of course, the dispersants been an issue and I was watching that segment just before. And they talk about how it leaves a film and it cuts the oxygen off from where it goes ashore. And I think there were some tests that were done during and after Valdez and places that it left alone did well.
But we‘re right now looking at estuaries here that are just so important to the livelihoods of this and—well, the economy and the livelihoods of all the folks in all this region, and trying to protect it is critical. And it‘s not like a beach. We can clean the beach. That can be done easily.
The thing that‘s really got the angst up around here is the fear of losing their livelihoods, losing what they love the most, which is the land and the water.
MADDOW: The oil industry is obviously very important to Louisiana‘s economy—a lot of money, a lot of jobs. So is fishing, though. So is tourism. So is—so is the physical viability of the land here and the protection from storms that this land and the wetlands here provide to inland communities.
At some point, I know you‘ve been—you‘re a supporter of the oil industry and it‘s a big part of the jobs in your district, the economy in your district. But at some points, is there a tipping point between oil and all these other interests that are put at risk by oil?
MELANCON: Well, we need to be is somewhere—I‘ve said this before -
somewhere between the extreme right and extreme left, that‘s not drill at all and “drill, baby, drill,” or maybe between “drill, baby, drill” and “spill, baby, spill.”
Somewhere in the middle, we‘ve got to mind that which protects the lives and the workers that are out there, safety to them and then protects the environment, the Gulf, and the water surrounding it, and the estuaries surrounding it.
And I‘ve got to believe that in this day and time, we can find the technology. If you‘d have told me this happened off South Africa or off Brazil, off of some developing country somewhere in the world, I would have said, well, I understand that. But off the United States, this is shameful.
This is just—it just—I‘m like the people here, I‘m mad, I‘m frustrated. This is not like a hurricane where I can quantify the needs of the people. They are there. They are frustrated. They are angry because they don‘t know what the future holds for them at all.
After a hurricane, you get back there, you rebuild, you start your life. You put the boat back in the water. You go about your life, and, in time, things come back to normal.
MELANCON: They don‘t know what normal‘s going to be and when it‘s going to be. So, it‘s a frustration.
MADDOW: With the oil industry, what we‘ve seen over decades is that they have made incredible technological advances toward drilling deeper, drilling farther, drilling more. Their production R&D is really space age and impressive, haven‘t focused yet so much on remediation. Not even quite so much—they haven‘t focused really at all on remediation, developing new technologies for cleaning it up.
Do you think—as a congressman who represents the area that‘s bearing the brunt of this, and to which the oil industry is so important economically—do you think the industry can be changed? Can they be forced to take safety seriously?
MELANCON: I think that they‘re going to have to change. They‘re going to have to start - you know, any time you put the safety of your workers and the safety of the environment at risk to try and make more money—not make money, make more money—
MELANCON: -- and you‘re cutting corners and you‘re not doing the things that you should be doing, and even the people that are on the rig have a responsibility that people that work there and the people that—the environment that surrounds them, we‘ve got to make sure that it‘s mandated.
And I‘ve got to believe—after what‘s happening in the Gulf of Mexico, there won‘t be any countries, third world or otherwise, that are going to allow these companies to go out there willy-nilly and just start producing. At least I hope that won‘t happen.
MADDOW: Congressman Charlie Melancon of Louisiana‘s third district, represents so many of the affected districts—thank you for spending time down here with your constituents, I know, tonight, and also with us.
MELANCON: Thank you.
MADDOW: I want to also go to the video feed that we‘ve got right now of what‘s going on underneath the—underneath at the Deepwater Horizon.
“A.P.” reports that it appears that the cap is being placed on the well right now. It‘s obviously hard to tell from these live images, exactly what‘s happening.
Congressman Melancon crossing his fingers right here, right now, me doing it as well and everybody in the country hoping they can stop that gusher. And, of course, as soon as we do that, we‘ve still got the disaster of what‘s already gushed to deal with.
Coming up on “COUNTDOWN”: Filmmaker Ken Burns will be joining Keith to talk about a lot of things—including the failed umpire‘s call that ruined last night‘s perfect game in Detroit.
Coming up on this show: The Gulf and what we wish was post-oil disaster, but it‘s actually ongoing current oil disaster.
Please do stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: One of the big questions about the national impact of this disaster is whether or not it‘s going to change the politics, the overall American idea about offshore drilling. It will to the extent that in places like this—what we‘ve seen when we look at this is—cause, that oil rig in the distance; effect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: When President Obama returns to this coast tomorrow for his third visit since the B.P. oil disaster began, my guess is that he will feel concern for the welfare of this region. He will feel frustration at the failure to keep oil off these shores. He will feel pressure as an executive, as a leader, as a politician to do something more about this crisis.
But I‘m also pretty sure that President Obama will feel disgusted, because what he will encounter when he gets into this oil is disgusting.
The oil now coating the wildlife and the beaches of this beautiful coast stinks. It stinks. It smells bad. It is filthy. It is the slimy. It is sticky. It is toxic.
Even if Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour wants to say that it‘s not, it is irredeemably foul. And it is everywhere. And when you come upon it in person, having only seen it on television, at least if you‘re me, you are overwhelmed by the post-apocalyptic sensory experience of a manmade disaster irretrievably destroying part of our country.
You are disgusted that B.P. put this ocean and this coast and communities inland in jeopardy, disgusted at the billions of dollars of quarterly profits that lined the oil industry‘s pockets and deepened their wells and didn‘t do a thing to prevent this.
You are disgusted that the government let B.P. and the rest of the oil industry do this; disgusted that American leaders screamed, “drill, baby drill,” without considering the consequences, all in the name of whoring themselves for a few votes during the few months that gasoline were rising; disgusted that the booms off this coast meant to protect it mostly are not doing anything; disgusted that those booms remain largely unmanned; disgusted there isn‘t much more to do except maybe put more people here to try to make this totally inadequate technology try to work less horribly than it does.
This—this is not Hurricane Katrina. This isn‘t another Hurricane Katrina. This isn‘t another anything. This is a whole new thing happening to us. This is America‘s Deepwater Horizon disaster. We all own it forever.
And right now, right here in Grand Isle and all along the Gulf Coast, there are really only three things that matter: stopping the oil from flowing; protecting the coast and the ocean from the millions of gallons of oil that have already spilled; and making sure that this never, ever happens again.
You can diagnose whether we have a functioning media in this country by whether or not the country understands that this is a vile environmental mega-disaster. You can diagnose whether we have a functioning political system in this country by whether or not the results of this mega disaster is change.
Big oil has been too rich to care about what it was putting us all at risk for. And we‘ve been too cowardly to change direction and break free from them. If that changes because of our national disgust at this disaster—then America‘s political system in 2010 works. If it doesn‘t change, then it doesn‘t work.
MADDOW: What you‘re looking at here is live feed of what‘s going on 5,000 feet under the surface of the ocean—B.P. attempting to cap the leaking oil well in the Gulf. “A.P.” had said a few moments ago that it appeared that the cap was moving into position.
Obviously, it‘s hard to tell exactly what‘s going on down there from this height and width. No awesome sports-like play-by-play commentary because we don‘t know anybody qualified to do that. Also, because this has never been done before.
But, right now, B.P. is attempting to cap that leaking oil well in the Gulf. We will be keeping an eye on that, letting you know as things progress.
We will see you again from—we will see you again here from here in Grand Isle on the bleeding edge of the B.P. oil disaster. We‘ll be back here tomorrow as well.
In the meantime, we understand the national media down here for the president‘s expected visit tomorrow, national media is doing some in-depth reporting on the jelly the Jagermeister tar ball shots over at the dock of the bay bar at the Sand Dollar marina here in Grand Isle. Very important research.
As we say, the president is going to be here tomorrow in south Louisiana. We‘ll be reporting from here then as well. Me and all my friends.
“COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
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