What impact will the Gulf oil spill and this week's vote on Senator Murkowski's (R-Alaska) disapproval resolution have on the prospects for climate and energy legislation? During today's OnPoint Wesley Warren, director of programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, discusses the Senate's action on climate and energy and gives his take on the future of Big Oil.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Wesley Warren, Director of Programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Wesley, thanks for joining me today.
Wesley Warren: Thanks for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: Wesley, a lot happening this week on the Hill on the climate and energy fronts and also relating to the Gulf oil spill. Senator Murkowski's resolution is expected to finally come to the floor this week and the vote there is really seen as a gauge as to whether Democrats should move forward with some kind of comprehensive climate and energy package this summer. With the oil spill in the background, is this sort of the perfect storm for passing some kind of climate and energy bill this year?
Wesley Warren: Well, the spill is a giant wakeup call I think to the administration, to Congress, and the entire nation that this is the time to end our addiction to oil, put America on a clean energy path so that we can prevent these kinds of disasters in the future.
Monica Trauzzi: How can Democrats sort of use the oil spill to their advantage perhaps in order to get the votes for a climate and energy package, but, at the same time, not seem like they're taking advantage of the situation in the Gulf?
Wesley Warren: Well, let's start for a moment with Senator Murkowski's amendment. This amendment would actually take the Environmental Protection Agency off its beat of preventing air pollution in America at the same time that we've seen what the effect of taking the regulators of the oil industry off the beat was in the Gulf. So, really, if we want to move forward with a clean energy policy and one that reduces pollution in America, we really should not be spending our time on the Murkowski amendment, which moves us in the wrong direction, but really take up legislation that's already pending in the Senate that would actually solve the problem.
Monica Trauzzi: But many people would argue that allowing EPA to act on the regulation of emissions is the wrong way to go, the EPA is not equipped through the Clean Air Act to do that.
Wesley Warren: Well, I mean I think we would all prefer to see Congress respond to the president's leadership in this area when he called on them to pass comprehensive legislation that would reduce our dependence on oil, also other dangerous fossil fuels, and that would actually create jobs while reducing our oil dependence and move America forward in a more environmentally friendly way.
Monica Trauzzi: Does Senate leadership need to craft an alternative to the Kerry-Lieberman bill in order to get the votes to make something happen?
Wesley Warren: Well, we're very encouraged by statements from Senator Reid, the majority leader, when he said he's going to get all the chairmen together of the relevant committees and is really giving them a charge to put a bill together that can go to the floor later this summer. Working with the White House, working with Republicans on the other side who would like to see us move forward on this issue, that's really the way to go forward at this time.
Monica Trauzzi: So, if the bill does make it to the floor, in terms of perception, will votes really come down to pro big oil or pro clean energy?
Wesley Warren: Well, I mean this is a fundamental choice I think for America now. The polling that we've seen, some polling that we've done ourselves, shows that Americans are ready for this step forward. By over 70 percent they thought Congress should fast-track clean energy legislation as one of the lessons of this oil spill and we agree with them.
Monica Trauzzi: But, at the same time, many people believe that offshore drilling policy needs to have a role in our future energy policy. Is there a way to move forward without doing this type of deep-water drilling?
Wesley Warren: Well, the first thing we need to do is have a thorough investigation of what the causes of this spill were, who's really at fault, and what kind of safeguards we need to put in place before we do any more offshore drilling. Fortunately, the president has set up an independent commission that's going to look into these issues and we think there should be a moratorium on additional drilling until we get the results of that commission and can put safeguards in place. But let's face it, we can get a lot more energy onshore than we can offshore and that's where we should look for solutions.
Monica Trauzzi: Why do you think there hasn't been more of a Three Mile Island type response from the public about this oil spill?
Wesley Warren: Well, I think the public really is out ahead of the politicians on this one. I think they're still really figuring out what the next move is, but I think that the public has been very clear when they've been asked the question would you prefer to move forward with a clean energy future that reduced our dependence on oil to more renewable, efficient forms of energy? And I think that as the really scope of this disaster settles into the mind of the public you'll see more of a demand for that.
Monica Trauzzi: Some of the leaking oil has been capped. Do you believe what BP is telling the public and the administration about the amount of oil that's leaking and the amount that's been capped?
Wesley Warren: Well, I think we're far beyond a trust but verify relationship with BP, that we should have already learned the lesson that when they told us there was a magic technology and they have a plan to deal with it if something went wrong that that's just not the case. So, this is an area in which it's good to stay on top of BP to get the best estimates that they have, but the president needs to surround himself with independent experts and the government needs to go out and gather information on its own and come clean with the American people about what's going on in this spill.
Monica Trauzzi: Can the U.S. afford to have another major industry like the oil industry take a hit as a result of an incident like this, speaking from an economic perspective?
Wesley Warren: Well, from an economic point of view, there's a lot more economic opportunity onshore than offshore really. Even the Department of Energy concluded that the amount of reserves we have offshore would only affect gasoline prices a few pennies at the pump. If we increase the efficiency of our oil production at existing wells inland through a process called enhanced oil recovery, we can get 10 times the amount of oil that's available in these unexploited reserves offshore.
Monica Trauzzi: The government's response to this spill has received a lot of criticism. What's your take? Is the administration doing enough now to police BP and its actions towards the recovery?
Wesley Warren: Well, I think it was very good for President Obama to really step up his attention to this matter personally. He took another trip to the Gulf. He's made it very clear that he's going to stay on BP, that theirs is not a partnership, but that the government's job is to make sure that BP does its job. But I think that everyone feels that everyone could have done more all along. The administration's job right now is to stop the leak, make sure BP cleans up the mess, have a full investigation of the causes and put a moratorium on new drilling in place until we know what safeguards are needed and to get Congress to move America forward in a clean energy path.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there on that note. Thank you for coming on the show.
Wesley Warren: Thank you very much.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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