Louisiana Senator Gives Take On Gulf Oil Spill

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) tells NPR her thoughts on BP's plan to help offset the financial losses of those affected by the Gulf oil spill. She also discusses offshore drilling safety and the Obama administration's energy agenda with NPR's Scott Simon.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion has been spewing into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly two months now. This week, the White House secured the commitment of BP to help offset the financial losses of those who live and work along the gulf. But there are still questions about the scale of the damage and the associated costs.

We're joined now by Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Thanks very much for being with us, Senator.

Senator MARY LANDRIEU (Democrat, Louisiana): Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And how do you feel about this - BP's commitment to a $20 billion escrow account? Is that enough?

Sen. LANDRIEU: Well, we're hoping that's enough but, you know, frankly, I'm not sure. I haven't seen any data from either BP or the White House, nor from any of the Gulf Coast states, to indicate that that number is going to be sufficient. But at least we can begin with it and then go forward.

But more than setting aside the escrow, whatever the amount, the most important thing is to make sure that claims process is working efficiently so that people receive the money in a timely fashion because, you know, that did not happen in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez.

SIMON: And Senator, what was your impression of BP chief Tony Hayward's presentation before a House committee this week?

Sen. LANDRIEU: Well, it wasn't very good and he's been, you know, roundly criticized. You know, the steps that BP has taken so far, at least from my perspective as a senator whose state is most harmed, at least their willingness to, from the very beginning, to say that they are going to pay these claims - I mean, that has been reassuring. I mean, we could've been faced with a company from day one that said, we're not responsible; we're going to fight this in court. I mean, it could have been a lot worse.

The other point I want to make is, I saw a poll the other day, Scott, that said 79 percent of the people in the country don't really care if BP goes bankrupt. Now, I can understand that because everybody's very angry with BP, including myself and everyone I represent. But believe me, the last company that people of Louisiana want to see go bankrupt right now is BP. They need to stay in business long enough to pay us what they owe us, and to clean up this terrible environmental degradation.

SIMON: In line with that, let me ask you about - you continue to support offshore drilling. Because I don't have to tell you that a lot a chorus of voices now that say this accident demonstrates that it's just very dangerous. But you continue to support offshore drilling.

Sen. LANDRIEU: I do, and I'll tell you why. First of all, I think it's important to put any accident in perspective. You know, when the shuttle blew up, you know, no one said, oh my gosh, the space program's so dangerous, we just can't explore. That's one point. The second point is, is that BP made some terrible judgments about how this should - well should have been operated, closed, you know, brought online - terrible judgments.

We can, I think, and must drill safely. And the final point I'll make on this, Scott, is there are 330,000 jobs in Louisiana related to oil and gas exploration directly and indirectly. And the country consumes 20 million barrels of oil a day. So as long as America's consuming, we've got to produce some of this at home and obviously, we have to do it more safely.

SIMON: When President Obama spoke to the nation this week, he clearly seemed to want to use this disaster as an opportunity to step up an energy bill and energy agenda. You...

Sen. LANDRIEU: Well, let me say this, Scott. I mean, I do think that the president had that message. But I think he's actually reflecting what people are thinking in their homes every night, whether they're Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. I think they're thinking, there's got to be a better way.

Now, I represent an oil and gas state, but I have been supportive of a new energy paradigm for the country because I know it's the right thing for everyone - including the people of Louisiana - if it's done correctly. Oil and gas needs to be looked at, and fossil fuels, as a transition to a new, cleaner, better future where we can be energy secure; we can have cleaner energy produced from wind and solar.

But I would remind the environmentalists that want to move - and I consider myself one, but I'm talking about the extreme that say, oh, let's just put solar panels everywhere and that's going to be enough energy - you know, sometimes the sun doesn't shine and sometimes, the wind doesn't blow. And frankly, we don't have a lot of wind in the South, and so we have to have natural gas - and we can't stop producing it.

So I think the president is reflecting the spirit of Americans right now as they look at any horrible accident and say: Isn't there a better way?

SIMON: Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, thanks so much.

Sen. LANDRIEU: Thank you so much.

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