Transcript of Pelosi Remarks at Press Availability at Meeting with Committee Chairmen on Gulf Oil Spill

Jun 08, 2010, 18:21 ET from Office of the Speaker of the House

WASHINGTON, June 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Committee Chairs held a press availability this afternoon in her office in the Capitol following a meeting on the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Below is a transcript of the photo opportunity:

Speaker Pelosi. Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming by. I am here to express my gratitude for the leadership that our chairmen and subcommittee chairs have demonstrated on the issues relating to the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. In the past few weeks, they have held hearings, written legislation, visited the region on more than one occasion and have given us, on an ongoing basis, the benefit of their thinking—whether we are talking about leasing reform, liability reform, the safety of the workers, the integrity of the certification process; whether we are talking about preparedness of the private sector to help respond to the spill; whether we are talking about research and development into new technologies; whether we are talking about the confidence that the people in the region have about what the response is from around; whether we are talking about the Coast Guard, and the Coast Guard having responsibility but none of the opportunity to help write these readiness plans.

So our chairmen of our committees and some of their subcommittee chairs have been having hearings and have given me the benefit of their thinking today. We are joined by phone by [Leader] Hoyer, who had some suggestions as well of how we proceed.

One thing for sure is we want the President's commission to have subpoena power. We are definitely going to hold the oil companies accountable. We are concerned about, certainly, the loss of life and the danger to the people in the region but we are also concerned about the impact to the U.S. taxpayer.

So we have different committees represented—Chairman Waxman, Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee; Chairman Rahall, Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee; Mr. Markey, Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy and Security; Mr. Miller, Chairman of Education and Labor, and concerned about impact of workers in the region; of course, the Chairman of the Transportation Committee, Mr. Oberstar, which has oversight over the Coast Guard, many other aspects of this; Mr. Thompson, the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and a representative from the state of Mississippi, which is affected; representing the Oversight Committee and a subcommittee chair on Transportation for the Coast Guard, Mr. Cummings; and subcommittee Chair, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, again her state affected, her state of Texas affected. These and other Members who are still out doing some of their work have taken the lead and prepared us for how we go forward to enforce the laws that exist, to have better regulation, as Mr. Rahall's CLEAR Act—you don't want me to tell you what that means because it is very long. It is very long, but it is very effective in how we go forward.

So I thank them, and I want my colleagues to know that we are assured that the intellectual resources to address this issue, the experience from other spills and other tragedies has taught us well how to go forward and we need to exploit and enforce the laws that are there, change them if necessary, and pass others to make us stronger in terms of protecting the interest of the taxpayer—the economy, the ecology, the quality of life in the region of the Gulf of Mexico. We commend our President for his leadership on this issue as well.

Q: Madam Speaker, have any of you been briefed about the possibility of a second spill?

Speaker Pelosi. We are not taking any questions right now, but we are getting ready to be briefed. Thank you all.

Q: Can you tell us when you plan to bring legislation to the floor?

Speaker Pelosi. We will have something ready. We are ready—some of the bills that have passed out of committee, some of them have passed the House and gone to the Senate and not come back. I think, I don't know what further evidence anyone would need that we need a new energy policy in our country as we go forward—what further evidence than what has happened in the Gulf of Mexico. We are told the technology is there to do the drilling. When it doesn't work, there is no technology to correct it and no technology to clean it up. Instead of digging deeper into the core of the earth, we should be looking to the sun, the wind, and the soil for renewables and alternatives to that. And as the President has said, countries know that the country that prevails in the green economy will be the country, the nation that prevails in the global economy. We want America to be that country.

Q: Has BP [inaudible] delayed releasing information that might be helpful determining the size of the spill?

I am sure you have attended our hearings and heard some of that. Mr. Markey, did you want to respond?

Chairman Markey. The question was…

Speaker Pelosi. Deliberately withhold, whether they intentionally withheld information.

Chairman Markey. BP is either lying or they are grossly incompetent. And the difference in terms of the impact on the people in the Gulf is meaningless, but I think right from the very beginning, their interest was in their own liability rather than the livability of the Gulf. And there is no way that they didn't know on that first week that it was more than 1,000 barrels. In fact, we have obtained a document in the first week which indicates that they believed it was 1,000 to 14,000 barrels per day in the first week. They kept telling the American public it was only 1,000 barrels per day, and then they raised it to 5,000. They are now pulling up 10 to 12,000 barrels and we can still see the gusher going up in the bottom of the ocean.

So BP was definitely trying to lower their liability because they get fined per barrel per day, because depending on how much oil goes out there—and that could go as high as 3 billion, 5 billion, 10 billion dollars if the number of barrels out there is in that larger number. So I think that was what was going on. Right in the beginning, they got lawyered up. They were told not to tell the truth about the large amount of oil that was going out there, but that had huge consequences in the amount of boom that was made available, in the amount of protection that we were giving to the workers out there, the amount of chemicals that were shot into the ocean. There were huge ramifications of BP deliberately low balling the size of this spill.

Chairman Oberstar. Plus they have a bad record of pipeline at a 5,000 barrel spill in the North Slope and to let it go for four days without recording, without activating their shut off valves and that was followed by another 1,000 gallon spill of methyl alcohol. Eventually, even under the Bush Administration, they were given a $12 million criminal penalty, an $8 million fine and suspended sentence. They've got a bad record.

Speaker Pelosi. Even under the Bush Administration, which is saying something, because as Democrats have tried to rein in Big Oil over time with our legislation and our initiatives, they have always protected Big Oil.

Mr. Miller do you have something to add?

Chairman Miller. I just say that we had the hearing of what we saw when we looked at the BP record in both the North Slope oil spill, the Texas City refinery explosion — the problems they had in the Midwest and now the offshore oil. It is very clear whether it is on the North Slope, whether it is in the refineries, or in the offshore — they can't keep oil in the pipeline. And it's caused huge, huge tragedies for their workers, and for the environment, and for the economy.

Speaker Pelosi. And we want to subject every aspect of this to very harsh scrutiny. Mr. Rahall, do you want to talk about your CLEAR Act?

Chairman Rahall. Yes, Madam Speaker. As we know, MMS has long been a dysfunctional agency. It cannot have the public safety under the same roof with those responsible for collecting royalties and auditing Big Oil for what they owe to the American people. These are the American people's resources, and besides ensuring the safety of those who extract this energy resource from the outer-continental shell, we must also ensure that the true owners of this resource, the American taxpayer, receive their fair share. And in this regard, BP has been low balling these figures as well because of a matter of royalty that they owe the American taxpayers for this oil that is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. And it's my hope that the Attorney General will pursue the proper course of recouping for the American taxpayer for what is their just due.

Speaker Pelosi. Chairman Thompson.

Chairman Thompson. As far as our responses to the overall outcome of what is going on. Clearly the private sector plan is absolutely important and still likely that we want to make sure that that plan is active and we look forward to work, going forward with our committee to make sure that is done.

Speaker Pelosi. Mr. Thompson is the Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, as you all know. Mr. Cummings is the Chair of the Coast Guard Subcommittee.

Chairman Cummings. Yes. Thank you, Madam Speaker. One of the things I learned in my two visits down there — I think the thing that really got to me was to talk to folks who have fished in those waters for so many years and to see grown men cry. And then to hear that BP was not honoring claims the way they should, that this compensation is made.

And the Speaker is very clear — and very clear with the White House. We're going to make sure that BP pays every dime to these folks, but we can never bring the lives, nor can we bring back the wildlife, and bring back, perhaps many, many seasons of fishing. But we feel the people's pain. And not only are we going to make sure that we straighten this mess out, make sure it doesn't happen again, and put all the legislative fixes in — but we want to make sure that the people are compensated, that they understand that we feel their pain, and we're going to do something about it.

Speaker Pelosi. Eddie Bernice, did you want to…

Chairwoman Johnson. Well, I think the conditions of the water, the wetlands have been destroyed — the sea life, human life, all needs to be getting attention. This is importantly affecting New Orleans right now more than any other place. They're just recovering from Katrina and this will have a back step to their economy for a long time to come. And I do think that BP takes, has the leading liability of it and they should pay. They cannot return life — it will take a long time to restore the sea life. And even trying to get any degree of comfort for the beaches or anything else — it will take a while to do that.

So I think that they should compensate people to clean it up, and compensate people for their loss. They need to take on a great deal more liability.

Chairman Oberstar. Among the many things that we do is to end this vicious cycle of industry self-certification — industry designed, industry built, industry certified, industry told us that they were doing a good job were using modern and competent technology — and that's not true. And we have to update laws that in one case go back to 1851 that Transocean was using them to shield themselves from their own liability and responsibility. And 18 and 1920 laws that have been used — are now being used to shield both Transocean and now BP from their liability in a way that was never intended by those laws. We need a totally updated and modernized structure for overseeing these operations with such deeply and inhospitable conditions.

Chairman Waxman. The government has a responsibility in all of this. We should not let any oil company start drilling unless they have a plan that will work. And if they can't get that certified in advance, we shouldn't have to defer to them to make their own decisions.

And what we saw with the blow-out preventer, which was a way to stop this thing from happening once it got out of control. They had a blow-out preventer that didn't work. They had a leak in it. They had a problem with the cementing of the well, and they didn't keep a log of the cementing that was being done. These are things that the government should have insisted be provided before they were given the green-light to go ahead and do what they had done. And there is no plan, as we can obviously see every day in the news, to deal with this oil spill.

And we relied on BP — I'm sure the President is as angry as we all are that we waited all this time for BP to get its act together — thinking they were the ones who knew what they were doing. And I have a real question in my mind if they know what they're doing at all. They seem to be focused on avoiding public relations problems and legal liability, rather than making sure we stop the oil flow, and protect the environment, and stop the damage to the Gulf region.

Speaker Pelosi. Thank you all very much.

SOURCE Office of the Speaker of the House