Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, this past Friday I had the opportunity to travel to the Gulf of Mexico along with three of our colleagues, including Senator Mikulski, my colleague from Maryland, Senator Vitter from Louisiana, and Senator Merkley from Florida. All of us know the importance of coasts. We represent coastal States, and we know how important it is to our economy, and we know how important it is to our way of life. I know Senator Vitter represents that area.
We wanted to visit and see firsthand the impact the BP oilspill is having on the communities in the Gulf of Mexico. I must tell my colleagues, seeing it firsthand, one can really start to understand the magnitude of this disaster. One can see the horrific impact it is having on the people of that region, and one can see the anger in their eyes and the desperation of people who are no longer working, and one can see the oil. You can see the oil all over. You can see it in the water. You see it in the marshes. You see it on the coast. It is a horrible thing to see.
We visited the area known as the Grand Isles. The Grand Isles is a beach area not too far from New Orleans. Grand Isles is a beach community. It is a city. It reminds me a little bit of Ocean City, MD. I was just thinking of how the people of Maryland would be responding if they knew Ocean City would not be open for the season. When we saw the area of Grand Isles, it was empty. No one was on the beaches. There were some people on the beaches working, cleaning up, but no tourists, no people, no children enjoying the water. You couldn't go into the water. The disaster is having a horrible impact on the economy of not just Grand Isles but the entire region.
We then had a chance to go by boat to see Queen Bess Island and Pelican or Bird Island, which are two of the major islands that are used by birds for nesting. We saw oil. We saw oil on the booms that had been deployed. We saw oil on the rocks on the island itself, and, more tragically, we saw birds that were covered with oil. This should never have happened.
I think it just strengthened our resolve about the priorities we must have in this Senate, the priorities that government must follow. The first, of course, is to stop the flow at the wellhead because oil is gushing out into the Gulf of Mexico. What we saw, of course, is oil that had been in the water for many days, had degraded but was still guck and still deadly to birds and certainly deadly to the economy of the region. But oil is still coming out at the wellhead.
Let me remind my colleagues that BP has tried many ways of stopping that oil from coming into the gulf. Of course, as the Presiding Officer knows from the hearings we have had in the Environment and Public Works Committee, BP said they had proven technology to deal with any of these types of spills. Well, that proven technology doesn't exist. They are trying to on the fly determine how to deal with the oil.
So now they have a process of capturing the oil that will bring in 18,000 barrels a day. Remember, BP said originally it was a 1-barrel-a-day incident, and then they increased it to 5,000 barrels a day. We now know it is closer to 40,000 barrels a day. The technology they are deploying will recover about 18,000 barrels.
They hope to be able to increase that perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 barrels, still leaving tens of thousands of barrels gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, and it will continue for several months until the relief wells are drilled. That is the current status.
Our priority, of course, is to stop the wellhead but also to contain the damages. Oil appears sometimes unexpectedly at different locations. So the game plan has to use the best technologies we have with booms and skimmers to keep the oil from reaching sensitive areas.
Admiral Watson, the Coast Guard Command, reviewed the strategy with us. While we think it is important for the command to set performance standards for BP across the board, we also think we have to have the right organizational structure.
Let me just mention one point that was troubling to us. Yes, we saw booms that had been deployed, but they were not maintained. If they are not maintained, oil gets to the shore, killing birds and killing our environment. We have to make sure that is corrected. I thank Admiral Watson. He got back to me Saturday night. We had a conversation, along with Senator Boxer, and steps are being changed. That is why we have to have performance standards on BP oil. We have to make sure we are in control, as to making sure all technologies are deployed to protect our environment. Then, yes, we have to hold BP fully accountable for all of the damages.
We all talk about how they have to be fully accountable. But let's remind the public that BP, in getting the permit to drill, said they had proven technology to deal with any type of incident. They were not truthful on that statement. They didn't have that. So they have to be held fully accountable. We are talking about criminal investigations that will go where they may. But they clearly have to pay all of the economic and environmental damages. The economic damages are clear. We have talked to fishermen who aren't fishing this season, and they don't know if they will ever go back to fishing. We talked to one fisherman whose family has been in that business for generations. We talked to shop owners where there was nobody in the shop. We saw charter boat owners who cannot operate. BP has to be accountable to these small business owners and the property owners.
I strongly support the effort of our majority leader and the President to have BP put money into a trust fund, with independent trustees, so we can expedite the process. It doesn't do a business owner any good if he has a long list of documents he has to fill out to get the help he needs in order to keep his business afloat. Those who were victimized need to be able to get relief as soon as possible. I think an escrow fund makes a lot of sense, and $20 billion seems like a reasonable start. I hope we will move forward. I know the President is meeting with the CEO of BP Oil on Wednesday. Tomorrow, I hope that will lead to the resolution of that issue.
Let me point out that BP also has to be held responsible for the environmental damages that will go well beyond the Gulf of Mexico. The Loop Current is bringing the oil around the Keys and to the east coast of the United States. It will affect many regions, including mine in the Mid-Atlantic. Many of our migratory wildlife travel through the gulf. We don't know whether they will be returning to Maryland. We don't know the impact it will have on our wildlife population--those who enjoy hunting and bird watching on the Eastern Shore, those who understand the importance of the diversity of our wildlife--whether we will be endangering different species. We need to document that and mitigate it.
I have the honor of chairing the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Environment and Public Works Committee. We are holding hearings, thanks to Senator Boxer, next month to start the accounting process, to make sure there is an independent, objective accounting as to the full damages that BP has caused and its related organization--economic damages and environmental damages. Then, going forward with drilling, we all understand mineral management is a critical part of our energy strategy. We cannot drill unless we have an independent agency issuing the permits. We have to make sure the public's interest is protected as new permits are granted.
Yes, there are areas where we don't drill today because they are environmentally too sensitive and there is not enough oil to make it worth the risk. I include in that the area I represent in the Mid-Atlantic, where there was a site they were going to move forward with drilling just 50 miles from Assateague Island, just 60 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake. If we would have had a spill a fraction of the amount that occurred in the gulf, with the prevailing winds and currents, it would have a devastating impact on the Chesapeake Bay and the beaches of Maryland and also Delaware and Virginia. It is not worth the risk. The oil is not significant enough there for that.
Lastly, I hope we use this opportunity, as President Obama suggested, to move forward with a new energy policy for our country. We need to rely less on oil and more on alternative and renewable energy sources. I agree we need to do more with nuclear power. We need to consume less energy and improve the way we operate our buildings and the way we manage our transportation systems. We need to become energy independent, and we can do that. But we cannot do it through drilling. We can do it through a comprehensive energy policy so we can protect our national security and create jobs in America rather than exporting those jobs overseas and, yes, so that we can protect our environment from the type of disaster that has occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. I hope that is how we respond.
My trip to the gulf reinforced my efforts, and I hope the efforts of all my colleagues, to say that we can do things better. Let's clean up this mess, let's hold BP responsible, and let's develop an energy policy that will protect America's security, help our economy, and protect our environment.
With that, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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