Browner Says Oil Spill May Boost U.S. Climate Bill (Transcript)

White House adviser Carol Browner said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that the BP Plc oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may galvanize support for climate-change legislation to overhaul U.S. energy policy.

(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP can’t guarantee its accuracy.)

AL HUNT: Welcome to Political Capital. Congress is eyeing changes to U.S. energy policy, but new questions are surfacing about the safety of offshore drilling as a massive oil spill floods the Gulf Coast. Joining us now in the studio is Carol Browner, director of the White House Office on Energy and Climate Change. Thank you very much for being with us, Ms. Browner.

CAROL BROWNER: Thank you.

HUNT: Let me start off by talking about BP. The White House has been very tough on BP. Is this company falling short of its obligations in this tragic oil spill?

BROWNER: Well, what we have is an intense oversight of the company. We are pushing them to make sure they are doing everything, deploying every resource, looking at every possible potential solution to the problem.

They have begun drilling a relief well. We said that’s great, drill a second one. We want to have redundancy at every turn.

And we are going to continue to do that. We are going to continue to be on top of them, making sure that we are getting every single resource that is -

HUNT: Are they responding to everything you ask for?

BROWNER: They are. They are responding, they are responding. They have got a lot of experts. We brought in, honestly, our own experts. Other companies have brought in experts to think about what other things can be done. And we are going to continue to be aggressive.

HUNT: BP is liable for all the cleanup and containment costs, but there is a $75 million cap on economic damage. The White House has said we are for raising that cap. There is a proposal in Congress to take it up to $10 billion. Would you support going that high?

BROWNER: We think we definitely need to raise the cap. We want to work with Congress to look at the entire oil population act. This is something that was passed after Exxon Valdez. A lot has changed since then. We need to have that conversation with Congress and we absolutely agree with raising the cap.

HUNT: But is $10 billion too high or does $10 billion sound about right?

BROWNER: Until we have all the facts we should base the number on the facts. It could be the right number. I think that right now we just need to do the analysis to determine is it $10 billion, or is it something else?

HUNT: Okay. As you know, in late March you proposed some offshore drilling. After this accident a number of Democrats, a lot of Democrats and some Republicans, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida, have said, okay, let’s scrap these plans. Let’s shelve these plans now. Are they overreacting?

BROWNER: Well, first of all, it is important to know what we have said. We have said no new leasing.

HUNT: Right.

BROWNER: We need to understand what happened. But we also need to recognize that we continue to use oil. We want a different energy future for this country. We want one that is based on less oil, more efficient cars, cleaner cars, battery technology, electric cars.

But as we transition to a clean-energy economy, we are going to continue to have to use things like oil. And so what we want to do is make sure that we are producing domestic oil to the best of our ability under the safest conditions, that we are not relying on foreign oil where we are at the whim of countries deciding to change prices, to withhold supply. So we need a reliable supply.

HUNT: Do you think that some of the - this terrible incident in the Gulf was caused by the lax regulatory policy of the Bush administration?

BROWNER: We have an investigation under way. We need to see what that investigation determines. I don’t want to prejudge the outcome of that. The president directed the secretary of Interior to report back in 30 days, before the end of May.

HUNT: Right.

BROWNER: That will happen. And then there will obviously be a full investigation under the auspices of the Department of Justice and others.

HUNT: The Minerals Management Service, it promotes energy policies and safety regulations. Is it too close to the industry to do an adequate job as far as safety and protection?

BROWNER: I think those are good questions to ask. Those are the kind of questions we need -

HUNT: What is your gut feel right now?

BROWNER: I certainly think there were reports and documented instances during the Bush administration that proved that to be the case. Secretary Salazar obviously came in at the new administration with a different view of how we manage these things. We need to determine if there are other things we should do going forward.

HUNT: You mentioned the 30-day review, but when Three Mile Island, the nuclear disaster occurred 30 years ago, the president of the United States went much further. Right away he commissioned a blue-ribbon panel, the Kemeny Commission, to look at everything, not just a little 30-day review. Why does this administration not appoint a commission like that to look into this?

BROWNER: Remember, what we are focusing on right now, first and foremost, is we have an ongoing spill.

HUNT: Yes.

BROWNER: We need to get the situation under control. We need to make sure that all of our resources are mobilized in getting this situation under control.

We have sent 50 inspectors out to look at all of the similar rigs. We have this very quick turnaround, 30-day review. That is not going to be the end of it. There will be other things, but right now we do need to stay focused on the fact that we have an emergency situation in the Gulf of Mexico.

HUNT: Is there still a prospect then for a commission like the Kemeny Commission? Could there be -

BROWNER: I think there - I think we are going to be looking at all those things to determine what is the best way to move forward.

HUNT: You mentioned the energy or the climate legislation several times. We are at a crunch time right now. Will the president go beyond rhetoric? He has certainly been supportive of doing something, and tell Congress that he wants to make a climate bill a priority, ahead of immigration, and spell out a deadline as to when this should be done?

BROWNER: Yes, the president has been clear from the campaign and throughout his presidency that we need comprehensive energy reform. And when he - he needs three things.

He needs them to reduce our dependence on oil. We need to create the clean-energy incentives for clean-energy jobs, and manufacturing. And we need to put a cap on greenhouse gas, dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.

We continue to believe that that is important, that if we do not give our industries certainty and predictability about what they are going to be required to do, they are not going to make the capital investments that are important to our clean energy future. So nothing has changed in terms of what we think Congress should do.

There is still a very, very important need for this legislation and we are going to continue to work to work to move legislation.

HUNT: You are a top White House aide. Is it a priority over immigration? You want to move climate first?

BROWNER: Obviously we need to work with the Senate to determine what the right schedule is. I think that that we had some very good news this week in that you are seeing a good bipartisan cooperation on financial reg reform.

I think that we will be working with Harry Reid to determine what makes sense for the Senate next. We want these things done.

HUNT: But you talk about a bipartisan deal on financial regulatory reform. Senator Kerry, Senator Lieberman are going to introduce this bill next week, and guess who is not there? Senator Graham is not there. You don’t have a single Republican right now.

BROWNER: Well, we do have Republicans who have voted for the Bingaman Bill.

HUNT: That’s right, but -

BROWNER: You are right. There had been good bipartisan work going on and I think that Senator Graham remains very committed to a different energy future.

HUNT: Do you think you can get him back?

BROWNER: I certainly hope so.

HUNT: What do you think?

BROWNER: I think so.

HUNT: You also - I don’t mean to be pessimistic about this, but the CEO of American Electric Power Co. this week worried that the oil spill may prove the death knell for any climate bill. I suspect you don’t agree with that, but what do you think are the odds that you can get a bill through the Senate and conference this year?

BROWNER: Well, I don’t - I think actually that this accident, this tragedy, is actually heightening people’s interest in energies in this country and in wanting a different energy plan for this country. And so, again, we need to stay focused on the emergency situation. That is what we are doing. But I think more and more members are coming to the debate and saying, yes, we need to get something done.

HUNT: A better than even chance?

BROWNER: Well, this is my job so I am going to say yes. Obviously, there are other issues that the Senate needs to be thinking about. But I think that there is growing interest on the part of the American people for a strong, clean energy plan for this country.

HUNT: Okay. Carol Browner, thank you very much for being with us.

***END OF TRANSCRIPT***

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