MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript
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MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. President Obama will go to the gulf, as we said, down to Louisiana, on Friday to see firsthand the devastation from the oil spill. We got more insight into this frustration from "The Washington Post" today. Just one week after the oil rig explosion, he told aides, the president, "Plug the damn hole."
Well, we"re in the fifth week since the explosion now, and Congressman Nick Rahall of West Virginia is chairman of the National Resources Committee and Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana--he"s on the Energy and Commerce Committee, as well--he"s in a district that"s been affected most by the disaster.
Congressman Rahall, first I want you to look at the highlights from a new report from--about the MMS, the Minerals Management Service, which supposedly regulates the oil industry and its safety. Number one item, industry officials filled out their own inspection reports in pencil, and then the regulators traced in their pen--using their pen before submitting them as inspectors.
Number two, inspectors accepted meals, tickets and gifts from at least one oil company while overseeing the industry. And the agency supposedly regulating the oil industry conducted four inspections while negotiating for a job, one of these guys did, with the drilling company.
Congressman Rahall, what do you make of that report? Do you buy it? It"s in "The New York Times" today, inspector general"s report, not yet publicized.
REP. NICK RAHALL (D-WV), CHAIR, NATURAL RESOURCES CMTE.: I"m aware of this IG report, Chris. It does follow up on previous inspector general reports about ethical lapses at the MMS office in Denver. This one is more recent, although it did occur under the previous administration.
But I think one thing is perfectly clear here, Chris, and that is the MMS is a deeply dysfunctional agency. If this Deepwater Horizon crisis is a game-changer in terms of the way in which we manage our offshore energy resources, then this inspector general"s report about alleged misbehavior at MMS has put MMS in the penalty box indefinitely. And it"s our duty now to help pull MMS out of this penalty box, to try to sort out just what went wrong not only in this disaster, going up to it, in the policing functions of MMS, but as far as the American people, as well. They, after all, are the true owners of these energy resources, and it"s important for us to determine whether what we have here is the Wall Street of the ocean that is privatizing profit at the expense of the American people.
MATTHEWS: Well, who are these regulators? I"ve gotten a little whiff of this. Apparently, there"s a lot of revolving door stuff going on in that agency, a lot of industry oil people. What"s your--you"ve got oversight over this. Who"s--who works in that agency?
RAHALL: Yes, our Committee on Natural Resources, of which I am chair, has had hearing after hearing, investigation after investigation, about these problems that conflict MMS. As I say, you have it, on the one hand, supposedly collecting royalties from the oil industry that go to the American taxpayer. And on the other hand, they"re responsible in the same office for the environmental and safety concerns that afflict these leases.
So it"s--in our committee, we"ve passed numerous reform efforts in the past, only to see it go nowhere. It passed out (ph) to the full House of Representatives as soon as the Democrats took control in HR-6, the Clean Energy Act.
MATTHEWS: Well, what is it, the on deck circle for jobs in the oil industry? I mean, do you work on the MMS so you can prep yourself and get free tickets and sports tickets and meals (INAUDIBLE) so you can then move on and apply for a job with the oil industry? In other words, you"re there to suck up to those guys on your way to a nice job. That"s what it looks like.
RAHALL: There"s--well, there"s no doubt there"s been a cozy relationship that exists here between the MMS and the oil and gas industry.
Unfortunately, that has occurred in other in...
MATTHEWS: Well, why couldn"t you crack it, as Oversight Committee?
Why couldn"t you crack it, break this system?
RAHALL: We have tried is what I"m saying. We"re aware of it. We have been aware of it, Chris, through the inspector general"s report.
But, unfortunately, we find this--that goes on in too many agencies responsible for worker safety, where they"re also perhaps looking for a job in their own futures with the same industry they regulate.
MATTHEWS: I know.
RAHALL: So, this is something we have to do our best efforts to try to eliminate.
Now, can we legislate 100 percent purity? Heavens no, we can"t.
We know that. We don"t live in a perfect world.
RAHALL: But it"s still important to make the best effort we can and expose these types of conflicts.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to--let me go to...
RAHALL: Unfortunately, it takes a disaster of this nature to expose it.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congressman Scalise.
What do you think of this mess? I mean, I--it is--I"m like everybody else, watching our North American continent get destroyed. You want to call it the Dead Sea, you call it anything you want, it"s not funny. I think this is a bigger than anything that"s happened in American politics for years.
We have got a government that looks impotent in the face of the oil industry. It looks like BP has a business challenge, and the American people are watching it meet its business challenge while they"re destroying our continent. Your thoughts, Congressman?
REP. STEVE SCALISE ®, LOUISIANA: I"m angry, Chris.
You know, if you look at the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, this is America"s energy coast. But it"s also a living, working coast for so many fishermen, people who make their livelihoods right there. And their livelihoods are in jeopardy.
Many of them can"t work today. They haven"t been able to work for weeks. What we have been saying for weeks now, though, is that we have needed approval from the federal government to go and put a barrier plan in place to try to protect our marsh. This is a plan that was put forward by our governor and our local leaders and our responders on the ground. They put that plan on the president"s desk.
MATTHEWS: Well, what"s stopping you from putting up a defense against you--of this oil spill into your territory? What"s stopping you from doing it?
SCALISE: The thing that"s stopping us from doing it is the federal government. We need permits from the Corps of Engineers. In fact, two weeks ago, our governor asked for that approval to the Corps of Engineers. We heard nothing for 10 days.
Last week, I led a delegation. Our entire congressional delegation, all nine members, sent a letter saying we need to get this acted on immediately. I actually forwarded that up to the president last week. We have still yet to hear from the president on this. He could do this today. He could make this happen today. Instead, two weeks have gone by with not a single word from the president about this plan.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you an engineering question. Can you put up a berm, can you put up a barrier by mankind effort, by men"s efforts, can you build a barrier that keeps the oil from the side--from the beach?
RAHALL: What you can do is, you can get dredges out to start dredging the sand and putting a barrier in place in front of the oil in front of the marsh, so that you can keep--at least you can defend it if it"s in front of a sand barrier before it gets into the marsh. Once it gets into the marsh, it"s a whole lot more destructive and maybe even long-term damage has been done.
MATTHEWS: So, there"s enough sand out there to create these manmade dunes? There"s enough sand out there to do it?
SCALISE: There"s sand.
And, in fact, the governor"s office identified a number of borrow pits where they can go get that sand. But it"s got to--we have got to get that permit approved. And, in fact, I think the governor said he got tired of waiting, and so we"re just going to go do it.
The problem is, we lost two weeks, Chris, two vital weeks, where, two weeks ago, there was no oil in our marsh, and today the oil is permeating through the marsh.
SCALISE: And we lost valuable time because of government"s inaction.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Congressman Rahall, and I will be back to you in a minute.
Final thoughts here. It seems to me there"s two challenges here, Congressman Rahall. Number one is to cap this well, to cap it. I don"t know. It looks like they have given up on this plan, the short-term plan for a kill, a top kill. They apparently can"t put that together in the short run.
They have got a two-month outline of planning to get another well dug down there, another outlet for the well they can regulate. Then we have the cleanup of what looks to be between seven million and 70 million gallons of oil in the Gulf. What"s the federal government role in both of those jobs, Congressman Rahall?
RAHALL: Well, I was--I was briefed today, Chris, by BP on these various alternatives that they"re going to try as a last-ditch effort.
It"s also very clear here, that we have a responsibility on our Natural Resources Committee to find out what happened here. We"re going to do that in a series of hearings starting tomorrow morning.
It doesn"t take a rocket scientist, Chris, to figure out that something went wrong here. But it may very well take a rocket scientist to help us cap this well.
RAHALL: And it"s important that we work together on this, both the government and BP.
MATTHEWS: What"s the federal government responsibility for capping and cleaning up both? Congressman, one more try.
Congressman Rahall, what is the government"s responsibility? What
or is it just waiting for BP--BP to do it?
RAHALL: No, no, it"s not just waiting. The government has a responsibility to help here, where they can offer help to BP and all the parties that are liable. They have been doing that.
Secretary Salazar has been on the scene. We have seen equipment offered by the government...
RAHALL: ... and government equipment put to work here. So, the government is not standing idly by. But we"re beginning to lose a little patience with BP, as--as everybody is, the fact that it"s not yet been capped.
RAHALL: But let"s bring in all the experts we can,. engineers, everybody, scientists. NOAA is on the scene. The federal government is on the scene. I had staff members down there immediately after this disaster occurred. They have reported back.
Congressional committees have been investigating. You will see more of this. Is it too much? No, it"s not too much, because we don"t have any answers yet. And so, the more hearings we have, the better.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to Congressman--OK. Let me go to Congressman Scalise.
Again to you, the two questions: What"s the government"s role, to clean up and stop?
SCALISE: If you look at the actual law, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 governs what happens during an oil spill.
And the law says the president shall mitigate this disaster, not BP. Unfortunately, the president has ceded this responsibility to BP, and they have proven that they can"t get the job done. We thought, after day three, that the White House should have taken over and said, BP, you"re not capable of handling this. You"re going to have to pay for it.
And we all agree BP pays for this mess.
SCALISE: But, in the meantime, we have got to get somebody in there that can actually get something done.
SCALISE: And they"re not doing it right now.
Congressman, you"re talking like an American, not a Republican, in this case. I will tell you, this is a public solution to a private problem created by the private sector. The public has to deal with it. I agree with you completely in this regard.
Thank you, Congressman Rahall.
And, thank you--thank you, Congressman Scalise.
SCALISE: Thank you.
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