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Mikulski Speaks on Senate Floor in Support of Nominee for Maryland District Court Judge Grimm

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National Aquarium - Baltimore
June 14, 2010

Senator Mikulski gave the following remarks at the National Aquarium in Baltimore about her trip to the Gulf Coast to see first-hand the devastating impact of the BP oil spill.

"Good morning everybody. I went to the Gulf of Mexico and Louisiana for two main reasons. One, as the Senator from Maryland, I wanted to talk to the scientists first hand to find out what would happen to Maryland, and what is likely to happen to Maryland. Will this oil come up and affect our coast? And if so, what do we need to do about it?

"Number two, is the seafood coming out of Louisiana and into our community, is that safe? Is it edible, and can we be sure of that; and can those of us who buy king crabs and go to our restaurants, can we count on that?

"The other is that I chair the appropriations committee that funds the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency that’s in the Gulf right now, doing the kind of important science that tells us where this oil is going to go because of tides and currents and also research that needs to be done on what is happening in the water.

"So what did we see? First of all, we met the people, we saw the beaches, and we also saw the impact on the wildlife. And everywhere we went, we saw oil, oil, oil, and the consequences of oil. And as I stood there talking to people whose livelihoods depend on this, I want to say I am so glad that we in Maryland opposed offshore drilling off of the coast of Maryland, and I will tell you no matter what is the energy policy, I will always oppose offshore drilling off of the Mid-Atlantic coast. We can never let that happen to our communities.

"And when we talk about what we saw; as we talk about words like ‘Louisiana,’ ‘Grand Island,’ ‘Pelican Island,’ what I want you to think of in your mind is Ocean City. Fenwick Island. Assateague. Our own barrier island.  And so envision what we say. What we saw was the good, the bad, and the ugly.

"So let me tell you about the good. The first thing that was very clear was meeting with the people. How wonderfully resilient they are. The people there have real grit, and they are determined to do something about their communities, but they are heartbroken about what is happening to their communities. We, as coastal people, need to be on their side. This is a national disaster, it needs to have an aggressive national response. When you think of the beaches, just think of one large, gray area. And where they would ordinarily have a community of 1,400 people, up to a couple thousand people with fishing charters, it is like a ghost land. It looks more like a military base than an ocean resort because of the trucks going up and down, carrying booms and all kinds of response equipment. And then when you go out to sea, in the waters or in a helicopter, you can just see this oil creeping closer and closer to the shoreline.

"We are concerned about the environmental impact, but we are also concerned about the human impact. On lives and on livelihoods, and on their own safety. So what did we see also that was good? We were assured – because our first question is, is the oil going to come up the coast? This so-called “loop current—loop stream,” is it going to come? We were told that the beaches of Ocean City and of Maryland will be safe, that it is not anticipated even in the worst case that it would get beyond the Carolinas. The second thing we were told is that the seafood is being inspected by the FDA and local seafood inspectors so that which is coming in to the American marketplace and the Maryland marketplace is safe.

"Now, I believe what Ronald Reagan said—“Trust, but verify.”  I’m glad we were assured that it’s all going to be ok, but I’ve now seen enough that I won’t believe it until I know it will work. I’m going to organize a Maryland delegation meeting to make sure that we bring in the scientists, bring in the seafood inspectors, to make sure that our beaches are safe, our seafood is safe, and that Maryland is protected. We’re going to work as Team Maryland to look out for our Maryland community. (Applause)

"Secondly, Senator Cardin spoke up about what we saw when we went out to look at these booms. The booms do seem to work, but they don’t work every day if you don’t pick them up and clean them up. We saw now instead of the boom being a tool of protection, it is becoming a (inaudible) What we saw was that the booms have vacuumed about three feet of something oily, stinky, and smelly, with dead fish and twigs (inaudible) that nobody has picked up for days and weeks. Our concern is that the Coast Guard is treating BP as if it were another government agency, when the Coast Guard needs to really take BP to task and make sure that they have performance standards that are (inaudible) they’re going to see it and make sure that there is follow through. It took four senators going to Louisiana to get the booms cleaned up around 35 miles near Grand Island. If they can’t protect 35 miles that they can see, how can they protect thousands of miles of sea that we can’t always see? So the Coast Guard needs to push BP towards performance standards to do this.

"The other of what we saw was the bad. The bad news is BP. I think that the BP people have to fix this. BP is cutting corners, BP is minimizing the situation, and BP has (inaudible). And now here we are. This oil well cannot be fixed until August. But the oil coming out of the well, it will take six weeks to get to shore, so we are going to feel all of this well into September, and that is the best case scenario. So our government must push BP to drill this second well and to do more to protect the economic consequences. This is why we support our President, that there be an escrow account for BP to put $20 billion aside at least for economic damages. I fear the hoarders will take charge, BP will file bankruptcy, and they will want the tax people to bail this out. The American taxpayer will not bail out the oil companies. The oil companies must put aside the money to take care of that. Do you agree with that? (Applause)

"The other thing that needs to be done is our own government needs to get help. We saw the can-do spirit here among the people, when the permit process is sluggish, sluggish, sluggish. Whether it is the EPA, whether it is NOAA, or the aforementioned, we are slow to do the permits, to do the kind of fixing that we know can be done. That needs to be speeded up. And third, and not at all least, is this thing called disbursements. It sounds like if you pour chemicals in it, it’s all going to disburse and everything’s fine. We’re very concerned that disbursements could be causing more problems than they are solving, that when we disburse are we always checking underwater, and we’re concerned about the toxic impact on human beings and marine life. We’re concerned about balances and we’re concerned about creating dead zones off the coast of Louisiana, and there could even be more. We need more research, we need more know-how. So, it will be our job in Congress to push the bureaucracy and to push BP to get the job done.

"Our first responsibility will be to the people of Maryland. Our responsibility will be to the nation number one to the taxpayers, not to the oil companies. Number two will be to the people of Louisiana, to do all we can to protect them from further dire consequences and then make sure that we contain the oil, that we can clean it up so they can get on with their lives and their livelihoods. I was honored to be able to go and represent you there because we are coastal people. And when I talked to the people down there who fish and crab…Senator Cardin and I talked about how we use the same kind of bait, we use the same kind of line, the same kind of ways. They were so glad just to hear from us. We cook them a little bit different, but we eat them all the same. And when they held our hands, they held our hands, they said when you go back to Maryland and Washington, don’t ever forget us. And we won’t. We all have to be Americans, we all have to be coastal people, we all have to be in this together. Thank you very much."