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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  November 13, 2010 5:30pm-6:00pm EST

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>> the executive directer along with the federal communications directer of the national resources defense council present the first book about the bp oil spill and its consequences. the national press club in washington, d.c. hosts this half hour event.
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[inaudible conversations] >> thank you all for coming. i'm bob deans, i'm the associate directer of communications for the natural resources defense council, and it's my high honor tonight to welcome you to the national press club and to introduce to you the author of "in deep water," peter lehner, the executive directer of the national resources defense council. want to thank everybody here for coming out on a monday night, and especially those who have traveled from afar. i understand we have the mayor of racine, wisconsin, with us here tonight, and i want to assure you, sir, we will get you out of here on time to watch the green bay packers kick you off tonight against the chicago bears. we also want to say thank you to the reporters who are here after spending a long day at the hearings of the national commission of the bp oil spill. we certainly appreciate you being here. on the night of april 20th after weeks of misjudgments,
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operational mistakes and be equipment failures, the macondo well blew out beneath a mile of water in the gulf of mexico. it gushed up a volcano of natural gas and oil onto the deepwater horizon derrick which exploded with 126 men aboard. eleven were killed, vanished without a trace. two days later the rig collapsed ripping the pipe that tethered that rig to the well and unleashing a volcano of oil that poured toxic crude oil, 200 million gallons of it, over the next three months into some of the richest, most fertile, most diverse, most productive waters anywhere in the world. as the dimensions of this catastrophe began to take shape,
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i walked by the office of reagan nelson who advocates on behalf of oceans on capitol hill. and reagan was staring at her computer screen with a look of abject despair on her face. those of you who know reagan -- who is here tonight, thank you, peter -- those of you who know reagan know that is not a characteristic look for her. this oil is is pouring into the ocean, he said. she said. that's all she needed to say. a few days later ray began was in the gulf -- reagan was in the gulf. she was on the delta. she was in the buy yous, she was in the estuaries, she was in the mashes. marshes. rocky chriser in, paul low
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gonzalez, jessica lass, gina solomon and several others. a few days after that nrdc president frances beinecke was down in the gulf flying over the spill and meeting herself, hearing firsthand from the people whose lives had been turned upside down by this unfolding catastrophe. when president obama put together the national commission to assess this disaster and try and forge a national way forward, he wisely named frances beinecke to sit on that commission. she immediately removed herself from all nrdc activities related to the spill, and peter lehner stepped to the fore. with a strategic vision and a stabilizing force that has kept nrdc focused and be on the case. peter understood from the very beginning that this was a disaster that would have broad and cat pick reper --
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catastrophic repepper cushions for the coastal waters, for the wetlands. for the irreplaceable habitat of the gulf of mexico and the rich delta region that feeds it. he understood this would be devastating to wildlife from pelicans to plankton, from sperm whales to shrimp. he understood that this was going to cause immediate hardship and enduring uncertainty for the 14 million americans who live along the gulf coast, make it their home and make their livelihoods from it waters. and he made it his mission to see to it that the nrdc would do everything we possibly could to make sure that the country takes the right lessons from this disaster, understands the story as it unfolds. he wanted to make sure that we would do everything we could as a nation to restore this gulf to health, make its people whole and try to prevent anything like
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this from ever happening again. this book, "in deep water," embodies that strategic vision. it puts that broad mission into words, and it tells the story as we know it so far of the greatest environmental disaster of our time. peter has spent his career fighting polluters in court. he is a master litigator who literally formed new york city's environmental prosecution unit. and be later led new york state's environmental prosecution unit. long before he became one of the nation's top environmental litigators, peter was inspired by his own early work striking out against imprudent development in the gulf of mexico in barrier islands off the coast of alabama. fresh out of college, peter challenged this imprudent
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development, and it was that experience that led him back to law school and eventually where he stands today, as executive directer of the most effective environmental advocacy program in the country. and yet for all his courtroom experience, his legal acumen, his prosecutorial zeal, peter never forgot that protecting our environment is, ultimately, about protecting our home. it is, ultimately, about protecting our future. it is, ultimately, about protecting our people. and so in his book peter wanted to be sure that we connected the dots between the problems in the gulf, the people who were being affected by those problems and the policies we need to find a better way forward. when you read peter's book, you will understand why the gulf of mexico is a natural wonder and a
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national treasure. because he takes you there. when you read peter's book, you will understand why the mississippi delta is the cradle of the gulf, the foundation of life and the great nursery of the sea. because peter guides you through it. most of all, though, when you read peter's book, you will hear the voices of the gulf through the people who live there, the people who make their living in its waters, the people who call this special region their home. because peter will introduce them to you and then let them tell you why they and we and all of us together have come to find ourselves in deep water. ladies and gentlemen, peter lehner. [applause] >> thank you. and for those there, there's
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some more room if you want to crowd in over there, maybe hear a little better. but welcome. and thank you, bob, for that great introduction. the really great news for all of you that read the book is that you will also hear the voice of bob deans without whom this book would not have happened and who has, as you see, is an extraordinary person and be writer. before i begin about talking about the book and our addiction to oil and the good news that we can do something about it, i do want to note that we're here at a pretty historic moment. we're here at the 40th anniversary of the clean air act which is a statute which many of you know has saved thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of lives over the course of its 40-year history. it is a law that is really, perhaps more than any other one, twishes us from ore -- distinguishes us from other parts of the world. i just came back from china, and be i can promise you they don't
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have a clean air act there, and the difference is very visible. it's also the 40th anniversary of the environmental protection agency which is charged with enforcing the clean air act and bringing those sterile words to life. and they are responsible for a lot of the clean air we have. and yet as we are here on this 40th anniversary, there are forces that would try to gut the clean air act and gut the ability of the environmental protection agency to protect our air, to protect our health and to protect our planet. and truly, not everyone can go off to china where nrdc has a pretty big office -- which is what brought me there -- but it is really inconceivable that today knowing what we know about pollution we can even be thinking about weakening the clean air act and epa's ability to enforce it. so i hope those who are working in washington and representing us on capitol hill have the wisdom to keep our basic safeguards in place.
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but now shifting to the spill, nrdc has all been a leader on environmental issues. we, too, are 40 years old. and so when this disaster happened, we realized we wanted to shift very quickly and take the moment to try to figure out a path forward. and people asked me how i could write this book so quickly, and can the answer, of course, is nrdc teamwork. from the moment the spill happened, as you heard bob talk about, the oceans team was in action down at the spill. our lands team was looking at the impacts of upstream issues. our transportation and energy teams were trying to figure out as we had been doing for years, how to shape a response that would help us end our addiction to oil. and our toxics program was critical on the ground helping people understand the impacts of this oil. i was down there just a week ago, and to be be downwind of a
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marsh that is covered with oil and it's black and thick and gooey with oil and just to be there for ten minutes is, you know, i don't know what. it's like sticking your nose in a gas tank, but it's worse. so i was pretty glad to get to leave. and there are hundreds of people there who are working all day long to clean up this oil. and they have no protective gear. it's really pretty remarkable. early on our health team gave some people some respirators, but they are -- we are told, at least -- that the workers were told not to wear them because they didn't want the pictures of people wearing respirators. it's a very real and powerful story, and so it was great that our health team as well as our oceans team as well as our transportation team were all there working together. and it takes all of that to get the basic message which is that over the last decades we have as a nation been driving to
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desperately needing more and more oil, pushing ourselves into ever more risky places and more inherently dangerous ways to get it. and at the same time our political con ken us of -- consensus of government oversight is make sure that somebody's looking out for us has fallen apart. and so what do we have? we have a company drilling at the very edge of technology and at the end when something goes wrong, they don't have a clue of what to do about it. and that's really why i wrote this book, why i and the rest of the team put so much effort in this, to try to understand what has happened so we can, we hope, make it far more likely this will never happen again. we need to move forward and get some action. the good news, again, in part, that the house of representatives has passed a bill address ago lot of the things we know -- addressing a lot of the things we know now can be done and should be done to prevent this from happening
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before. again, i mean. on the other hand, the senate hasn't yet acted, and to me it is truly inconceivable that the senate might adjourn and go home to start battling for elections without taking actions on this most horrific spill. so our hope is that this book will, in fact, help put pressure on and get the action we need. and why do we need it and why is is this book important? this you know, when i was down there last week, a lot of people are feeling abandoned. they think that for the rest of the country the spill is over. i can promise you -- and i see rocky who's been spending a lot of time down in the gulf -- this bill is anything but -- this spill is anything but over. when i spend time with the fishermen, the shrimpers, the oystermen, hotel and restaurant owners, this spill is not over. the fisheries are still closed. they don't know if shrimp and the fish this year affected by
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the oil will come back next year if next year the fishery is open. the spill will never be over for the people who lost their lives and the family members. the spill is not over for the whole ecosystem there because it was already under stress in so many ways from the oil krilling -- drilling, and they're continually finding more oil. and that's one of the extraordinary stories there. you've probably read a little bit about oil plumes underwater the size of manhattan. live in manhattan, it's a pretty big place. and they're down there -- what we did was we took the dispersants which really don't magically make this oil disappear. what it really made the oil do is sink. what happens when it sinks? well, two things. one is it's not in the zone of the ocean where there's sunlight and biological activity where the oil breaks down, and second of all, it's where it can't be cleaned up. so what's happening is this oil
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down there is popping up in places where we thought it was clean, we had a clean beach, and then a few days later more oil washes up from somewhere on the bottom. rocky and i heard about a guy driving his boat and hitting a sand bank, and a big gob of oil came up. it didn't look like it was oily, but then when he ran aground by mistake, he sort of let leash this new oil spill. the spill is far from over, and the people down there are fully aware of that. and lastly, the spill is far from over because until we make the changes to make sure on how we drill and, most importantly, how we use oil we are vulnerable to, yet again, pushing the limits and getting ourselves into deep water. we wrote the book because the question is, how did we arrive here. and one of the things we talk about is the pushing, the sort of demand for oil that we've had
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that has pushed us to ever more dangerous places to get oil. one of the things that astounded me is is that over the past 15, 20 years, two-thirds of our trade deficit is from oil and cars. those two things. and think how different the world would be if we had just had a different appetite and we weren't quite so addicted to oil. and the other thing that was so critical about writing this book is is not to have people think that the minerals management service which, of course, was the oversight agency that was asleep at the switch or probably asleep in bed with the oil industry, that they're not an isolated interest. what happened is the result of a decadelong effort to defang the watchdogs. the mineral management service, mms which has now been renamed bureau of ocean energy exploration research -- it's pronounced bummer, but i can
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never quite remember what it stands for. [laughter] but we cannot think that simply renaming an agency or just tweaking one agency is the answer. because that agency was just the manifestation of what has been happening for decades. which is that the regulatory agencies, the ones who are charged with looking out for us, have been unable to do their job being underfunded, understaffed and underempowerred. so they can't even ask for information. and those agencies who are the only ones looking out for us, the oil industry isn't able to look out for us, are unable to move ahead and protect us. and mms is just one example, and we have to make sure that we don't paper over the solution and come up with something that looks good on paper but, in fact, doesn't fully protect us. the other -- the good news here, though s that we actually can do something. oil is a very precious resource. it's really remarkably useful
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stuff. and yet we waste it incredibly. i'm looking at these lightbulb here. you know, we waste energy, 90 better of the energy that goes swoosh 90% of the energy that goes into lightbulbs is wasted. 80% of the energy in the oil of our cars is wasted energy, wasted heat. we can change all of that and dramatically cut our oil use. the cool thing here, and it actually is, we're actual pretty amazing that using technologies ha we have today we can probably cut our oil use easily by half over the next couple decades. we're pushing, and we're waiting thousand for the president and the administration to announce the next round of fuel efficiency standards for motor vehicles. and nrdc is pushing hard to get us to 60 miles a gallon by 2025, something eminently achievable. but looking backwards it was the arab oil 'em bar doe in the
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1970s that got us first to think about fuel economy standards for cars, and then for 30 years we did nothing. until last spring there had been no progress on fuel efficiency standards for cars. we're also waiting, now, for the administration to move us forward on fuel efficiency for heavy duty trucks, something they've never addressed before. all of this together presents a tremendous opportunity. if at the same time we think about shifting how we move goods around from moving them around in the trucks to moving them around in trains as we did a generation ago which is vastly more efficient. if we think about changing our communities so we don't have to hop into our suv just because we forgot to buy milk for your coffee in the morning. right now we spend 80% of our federal transit money on roads in the middle of nowhere rather than on mass transit systems where people are. all of these are opportunities
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that, if we do them, can cut our oil use dramatically, cut it in half within a few years. so we hope you look at this book, reread it, all the proceeds from the book go to the gulf to our colleague agent groups in the zone and best of all, read it, pass it around, get your friends to read it because we do have to rebuild the political consensus that we need somebody watching out for us and that political consensus that we have to use oil carefully and wisely and stop wasting. thank you all for coming and thanks to bob deans and the other teams that have made this book a reality. and should i take some questions? >> please do. >> and if there's any questions, happy to take 'em. [applause]
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>> can we really clean this up? >> no. that's why prevention is the best solution here. the, you know, going down -- flying over the gulf my main reaction is, wow, this is big. when we -- you fly, and you fly and you see oil beaches, and you see some more beaches and you fly some more, and you see some more. if this spill had been on the east coast, it'd go from cape hatteras to cape cod. it is huge. then you get into a boat, and you go down, and you see these guys sucking it up with a hose a little bigger than this. a four-inch hose, sort of a diaper on the grass. obviously, it's ri dick rouse. -- ridiculous. we can make it a little better, but we can't clean it up.
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you also have the problem of the marsh, particularly in the louisiana area, which has been under assault for so many different reasons, largely the oil and gas industries slicing and dicing them up which allows more saltwater to come in and kill the marshes. the marshes are sort of hanging on by their ficker tips, so in those areas -- fingertips. so in those areas it'll be hard to recover, and once the grass dies, then the currents wash the marshes away, and you've got open water. it was really amazing to be in a boat, and the chart says you're on dry land, and you're going over open water because the marshes have all gone away. what's really obvious -- and i'm not a scientist, but it's obvious, and the scientists note it -- you can't really clean up something like this. you can hope the natural ecosystems can recover but, clearly, the only real response is to make sure it never happens again. >> there's been so much talk
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about and controversy around the use of dispersants, and i'm just wondering, you know, i just keep on thinking about how much dispersants are being used, and i'm wondering about that. you say to yourself, when they applied these dispersants, who pulled the trigger on that, and how did we get so much of these dispersants used? was it a political play, or was it something they were looking to do it ask and keep it off the pictures? it just seems -- [inaudible] how would you, you these hundreds of thousands of barrels of this stuff into the ocean. >> right. the question is about dispersants for those who might not have heard the question. the, you know, we'll find out more, and that's certainly going to be one of the questions the president's commission will be looking into. you know, personally i'm
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confident that the people, for example, in epa that had to approve the use of dispersants were trying to make their best judgment. that might not have been the motivation of bp who were you wering the use of -- urging the use of dispersants, but, again, the really frightening thing here is we didn't know, and we were using the same dispersants we were using 20 years ago, and we'd never used them in deepwater, never injected them a mile down before, so we were performing this big, uncontrolled experiment on a vast scale. so what's really frightening is how totally unprepared we were for the spill. if act same spill happened today given what we know, things would probably be different. but the response plan had phone numbers for states away and was worrying about walruses. this was a completely -- they were just drilling by rote. they were pushing the technology, and, you know, you
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can imagine what it's like. you're on the edge, and if everything goes right, you're okay. but the minute something goes wrong, you're not. and that's where our technology was at the time. and we had just stopped paying attention to response. and so we we used dispersants ia way we never have before, and we don't know. as i mentioned, the really frightening part is we put the oil from the surface down into the deep, cold, dark water where it doesn't degrade, but where it does move around in this currents we don't fully understand what is why it keeps popping up. so a lot of questions there. >> would we be better off to charge it up and just let it dilute? >> the short answer again is, i don't know, but whatever it is, we can't turn it up. the area is vast, o any notion that, i think, humans could
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mechanically turn it up just wouldn't work. i think they are trying to figure out whether there's something they can do for the oil that is not right on the surface. if you think about it, all the things we have to collect oil -- skimmers and booms and all the rest -- it's all for nice stuff at the surface. now that once you've put this bit per santa to make this sing, it's much regarder to collect. that's, again, they'll be looking and trying to figure out. >> i appreciated your confidence about the -- [inaudible] quickly outline nrdc's laps for -- plans for -- [inaudible] >> thanks. one of the things we quickly set up down in louisiana near, mere the spill -- well, the spill is, of course, miles offshore, but near the end of the road was a resource center to help provide
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largely media investigative reporting and scientists and nrdc staff a place to be and to connect with the local residents. there are, also a lot of local groups that we had been working with. nrdc had been particularly active after katrina and trying to bring our ocean policy and our health people together with the people who were down there as well as with the local groups who are down there. and our resource center's still quite active, and where i saw rocky, right there, who's spending a lot of time down there and others are down there quite often, really the important issue is both on the one hand to recognize that the spill has tremendous consequences. it has tremendous ecological consequences, many of them we don't know. i worked on what was the east coast's largest oil spill in
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1990 when an exxon pipeline broke, and that was in new york harbor. and, you know, it takes a number of years before you really know what has happened. and that is, that was in a very studied ecom, and the value low water spill. we're going to have to keep pressure on, among others, bp, on the research, on the federal government to make sure how they do the damage assistment to make sure the whole suite of ecological impacts from the deepwater impacts on the corals, the fish, the blue fin tuna, much of the blue fin tuna that swim around the atlantic swan and grow in the gulf of mexico. 97% of the shell phish and the seafood from the gulf of mexico fend on those estuaries -- defend on those estuaries. how are those going to react to this oil that is popping up? this so we want to keep the pressure on to fully understand what has happened there. and, as i


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