EPA Administrator Jackson On the Gulf Oil Spill
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
We're now joined by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who's in Louisiana briefing the president about her talks with BP and local officials.
Jackson grew up in New Orleans, and she's a chemical engineer by training. She's been in the Gulf region all week. It's her fourth visit to the area since the oil spill.
And she joins us now to talk about what she's seen and heard. Welcome to the program.
Ms. LISA JACKSON (Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency): Thank you so much, Michele.
NORRIS: Now, we're at the six-week mark. The oil is spreading, heading now to other states. Chunks are breaking off and heading into fragile coastline. What are the environmental effects that we have not even seen or been able to fully comprehend yet?
Ms. JACKSON: Well, we can't comprehend them, and it's because they're still evolving. We all woke up this morning, you know, to the picture of the state bird of Louisiana covered in oil. Those horrible pictures, those are the ones that all touch us. But this is an unprecedented amount of oil being released into the Gulf of Mexico.
And as I've been saying to officials and fishermen alike all week, while the Gulf can handle some of this oil, I think just by virtue of the amount we have, there'll be impacts both in the food chain that'll certainly be subject of the natural resource damages, but also our fight right now is to minimize the amount that comes into the shallower waters, the estuaries and wetlands.
And that story, the final chapters haven't been written yet, of course. But that's our fight, and we can see what happens when we don't win it.
NORRIS: What's the danger there if it does move into the estuaries and the shallow wetlands?
Ms. JACKSON: Well, think of those areas - the estuaries, the wetlands - as nurseries. Nurseries for fish and crab and shrimp and all the - and oysters, all the seafood that, you know, we take for granted down here.
It's actually thought around - like every night when I go to have something to eat, I look at the menu and all of a sudden, everything that pops out of me is - out at me is all these seafood. It's an industry. And more than that for the people down here, it is a way of life, generations of families that have made their living on and in these marshes.
NORRIS: Is that way of living, is that going to change fundamentally in some way for months and perhaps even years now?
Ms. JACKSON: I think that's quite possible. I think, certainly, if oil enters sensitive back bays, sensitive estuaries. We've seen it enter some marshes. The results can be long term. We're all praying that that's not the case. But every time and every day that goes by that the gusher continues increases the chance that we won't be able to get all of it.
And, yeah, you know, once oil enters the marsh, sometimes the best thing to do is to let nature take its course. And the good news down here is that the Gulf of Mexico is very, very biologically active. But the bad news is that it's not so active that there won't be times when people will not be able to ply their trades or live off those waters.
NORRIS: And I want to ask you a little bit about the use of dispersants. You've been in a little bit of a tussle with BP over this. You've been closely monitoring the use of dispersants. What did you hear from BP about the use of dispersants? And are you satisfied so far?
Ms. JACKSON: Well, the original reason that I came down on Monday was to meet with BP on Monday night, Memorial Day night, to specifically talk about dispersants. BP is under order from EPA and the Coast Guard to minimize the use of dispersants, to really use spraying of dispersants as a very last resort, and then to use subsea injection of dispersants sparingly.
Right now, they cannot inject any more than 15,000 gallons a day. And that -just to give you some context - compares to 70,000 gallons a day that they were using just a little over a week and a half ago.
NORRIS: The United States is a nation that gets things done. It's a can-do nation. That can-do attitude is an important part of the national psyche. But this so far is a problem that the government can't fix, at least not anytime soon. Help us understand why this should not shake the faith of people in their government?
Ms. JACKSON: The most important thing here is to realize the president's personal commitment. He said again today that, you know, we are here and we're not going anywhere. That we realize that even if and when the flow of oil is finally stopped, this recovery, this response and recovery is going to be a long-term thing and requires a long-term commitment. He said that over and over.
I do think that, you know, just in terms of the psyche of this region being from here, part of the anger that is so palpable - and I have it myself - is that that frustration of watching something this catastrophic that we cannot -none of us can do anything about.
NORRIS: Lisa Jackson, thank you very much for joining us.
Ms. JACKSON: Michele, great to be here. Thank you for having me.
NORRIS: Lisa Jackson is the EPA administrator. She spoke to us from New Orleans.