What impact has the spill had on tourism?
Today, our beaches are still pristine and beautiful. We've had no oil reach the Mississippi shoreline. Twice we've had a very small volume of emulsified oil—kind of an orange glob that has washed ashore on one of our barrier islands 12 miles offshore. But our tourist season has been devastated. It didn't matter what the hotel or the inn said, the tourist who was 500 miles away just couldn't accept that because of the way the news coverage made it look.
You've been measured in your criticism of the President.
First of all, this shouldn't be about politics. This is a very serious episode that could end up being catastrophic. At the same time, I've been willing to say, as I said about the Bush Administration after Katrina, it did a lot more right than it did wrong. They had some mistakes early. The same thing is true of this Administration. And any time you have an unforeseen, unprecedented disaster of this magnitude, it's silly to think everything's going to go like you hoped. I will say about this Administration, they have tried to do everything we've asked them to, and in fairness, so has BP (BP). But right now we are seeing that the command-and-control system the government set up is not serving us very well.
Why is that?
I don't know anything about maritime operations, but in this case, the Coast Guard went for quite a long period of time without the ability to communicate with the resources we had worked hard to make available to defend our shores. So we asked them please get that done, and it's starting to be done. Again, that's not something that I'm going to attack the Administration over, but it's a shortcoming that is very material to us in these days when we're starting to see oil come at us. Three or four weeks ago we thought we had a good defense plan.
Will this be defined as a political issue in the midterm elections?
When Americans look at me as governor, or any other governor, the question they ask is: "Can he get the job done? Can he get the problem solved?" That's what they expected after Katrina. That's what they expect when any problem arises. And so they'll look at this Administration and say: "Did they get the job done?" Is that expecting too much?
Having been through this crisis, when the citizens of Mississippi say to you, "Governor, do we really have to drill offshore, do we have to take this risk?"—what do you say?
Yes. And there are about four reasons why I say that. First of all...some 25 percent of all the U.S. oil production today is in Gulf of Mexico deepwater. So reducing the amount of oil we produce means commensurate increases in the importation of foreign oil, something we've been trying to reduce for 40 years. Secondly, the four Gulf states that allow drilling—Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas—have done so for more than 50 years. More than 30,000 wells have been drilled in the Gulf, and this is the first time anything like this has ever happened. I suspect we will see, when all the evidence and the facts are in, that the proper procedures were not followed in the attempt to shut down the well, and that's what caused the blowout. The third thing: Of the 10 worst oil spills in American history, this is the worst, but it's also the only one that was caused by an oil well. Seven of the 10 were caused by tankers leaking oil. If we're going to start importing a bunch more oil, we're going to increase the chances of oil spills. And finally, this has huge economic impact on my state—but nothing like the economic impact on the total U.S. economy.
Looking at all the casualties—whether it's the ecosystem or the economy—will there be a rethinking of our energy priorities and the necessity for a different kind of energy strategy?
As the President said in his speech the other night, those who advocate that, like he does, have no idea how to get there. Look at how many nonfuel products we make from petroleum, from makeup to plastics to many, many, others. So we're going to be using a lot of oil for a long, long time. And we need to be honest about that. We need more American energy, not less. The way to import less oil is for us to produce more oil in the Gulf and on Western lands that could be opened to drilling and in Alaska. I remember when President Clinton vetoed the bill in 1995 or so to allow drilling in ANWR, he said we wouldn't get the oil for 10 years or so anyway. Well, wouldn't we have loved to have had that oil for the last five or six years. So to sum up your question: Do I think this BP spill is going to be the Chernobyl or Three Mile Island of offshore drilling? I don't think so.
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