Interview with Rep. Steve Scalise

Interview with Rep. Steve Scalise

By Anderson Cooper 360 - June 17, 2010

ANDERSON COOPER: One of the people asking questions today on Capitol Hill was Representative Steve Scalise, Republican from Louisiana. The spill is in his backyard. He arrived armed with a powerful picture today of a brown pelican, Louisiana's state bird.

Congressman Scalise joins me now.

Congressman, are you surprised? I mean, if, in fact, BP early on had an estimate, an internal estimate of 40,000 to 60,000, would that surprise you? I mean, isn't that shocking, if -- if, in fact, they had that estimate? Because, basically, that's the estimate the governor -- the government has now gotten into, and it's taken, you know, 57 or so days to get that estimate.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: Well, and, Anderson, you're exactly right.

You know, they have literally just underestimated and downplayed the severity of this damage from day one. And, in many ways, it's helped -- it's hurt our ability to mitigate the disaster, to protect our marshes from the oil, because we have seen from early off that there is a tremendous amount of oil coming out of this well, and, ultimately, it works its way into our marshes.

Our goal from the beginning has been to protect our marshes, to stop the oil from coming in, so we don't have this devastation to our marshes, our ecosystems and our seafood beds.

But, clearly, BP and the federal government, I think, both have downplayed and underestimated the devastation of this from day one.

COOPER: And the reason, as you point out, is -- why it matters is because it has affected the cleanup effort. All along, they, the government, NOAA and BP, most notably, were saying, well, look, we're planning for a worst-case scenario.

But we all know, if they had planned for a worst-case scenario, we wouldn't be waiting now for larger containment vessels to be getting online, to be getting out to the site by mid-July, so that they can actually contain the oil -- you know, a percentage of all the oil that is flowing out.

SCALISE: Right. And if they would have said from day one that 60,000 barrels of oil was the worst-case scenario that was coming out of this well -- you know, we came up with a plan early off. Our governor, Bobby Jindal, Billy Nungesser, other leaders on the ground came up with a plan early off to put these sand barriers in front of our marsh, because we said we're not going to sit back and wait until the oil hits the marsh before we do something.

We want to stop the oil from coming into the marsh, because we know it's a much harder problem to battle at that point.


SCALISE: And, yet, we were denied, and it took over three weeks before the federal government even approved it. And still, to this day, more than 75 percent of that plan has yet to be approved, including Barataria Bay.

And, Anderson, I know you've been out there on Grand Isle. All of that area just about a week ago, when I was out there, they didn't have oil in Barataria Bay. Today, there is oil in Barataria Bay. And we wanted to protect those marshes ecosystems from the oil. And we were denied that ability from both BP and the federal government.

COOPER: Yes. And you have got local officials right now literally buying HVACs at Home Depot-type stores, and trying to suck it up and deal with the oil themselves.

Congressman, I want to ask you about -- about your frustrations today, about what you thought of Tony Hayward's testimony today. I just want to play for our viewers just some of your questioning today of Hayward.


SCALISE: I want to ask you: Who is in charge on the ground?

TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BP GROUP: The national incident commander is the person in charge of this operation.

SCALISE: So is the federal government telling you what to do? Are you telling the incident commander what to do? When our local officials say we need something approved, do they need to get the incident commander and your approval? Because they're getting run around in circles right now.

HAYWARD: Well, we're trying to -- we're not being perfect, I acknowledge that. And we're trying very hard to do better.


COOPER: They're not being perfect.

What did you think of Tony Hayward today?

SCALISE: Well, you could tell that he came really just -- just, I think, prepared to obfuscate. He didn't answer most of the questions.

And, I mean, frankly, I wanted to see a sense of urgency from Tony Hayward. I still, to this day -- for over a month now, I have not seen the sense of urgency from BP or the federal government in the fact that you need a change -- chain of command where decisions can get made quickly.

And, Anderson, what I mean with that is, in -- within a day, within 24 hours from when our local officials say, this is what we need to solve this problem, they -- they right now are taking over five days.

COOPER: And you are not seeing that? That -- that chain of command -- is that right, five days, that's your estimate? Because, I mean, early on... SCALISE: It's taking five days, what most leaders are telling me.

COOPER: Weeks ago, when the president came here on the second trip, that was supposed to be cleared up. The local officials were getting Coast Guard representatives, who allegedly could make decision-making -- had decision-making authority. You're saying that's not happening?


And, in fact, just a few days ago, one of the leaders on the ground said that he is spending more of his time fighting with the federal government and BP than he is fighting the oil. There's no excuse for that.

I mean, we're -- we're now two months into this disaster, and you still have this problem on the ground where our local leaders -- and, I mean, look, Anderson, one of the big frustrations is, our local leaders seem to be the only ones who were coming up with ideas to protect our marsh from the oil.

All they're being told from both BP and the federal government is no. And just they find too many ways to say no, instead of having real alternatives. They don't have any alternatives. All they do is tell our folks, well, there's reasons why we don't want to do this or that, instead of saying, we want to work with you to stop this problem from getting into the marshes and the ecosystems here in the coast of Louisiana.

COOPER: Congressman, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you very much.

SCALISE: Thank you, Anderson.


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