Douglas Brinkley On BP: Those Two Initials Are Going To Be The DDT Of Our Era

Douglas Brinkley with another great interview on CNN, joined by Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist from the Earth Island Institute. I just want to highli

Douglas Brinkley with another great interview on CNN, joined by Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist from the Earth Island Institute. I just want to highlight two of the things Brinkley said here. First on how this spill by British Petroleum is going to change the debate on offshore oil drilling and BP's future.

BRINKLEY: As soon as they're -- BP is getting called out on something, and then they backtrack.

It's been a mess. The disaster has been BP. And I think those two initials are the DDT of our era. When you think back in 1962, when Rachel Carson wrote "Silent Spring," a whole country woke up to what pesticides do to the environment. That's what this spill is doing to the Gulf. People are going to have to wake up anew. We're going to be looking at all of these shoddy kinds of laws and tricks that big oil has played in the Gulf of Mexico.

And BP has taken a hit for everybody now, but it's their third environmental disaster in the United States in the last five years. They had one in Texas City in '05. They had one up in the North Slope in Alaska in '06, and now this one.

So, for them to be acting not accountable, and putting that kind of waiver, having people sign them, all British Petroleum is doing is trying to skirt responsibility right now. And I think you're seeing a great company crumbling before our eyes.

And on this being Barack Obama's "Katrina".

COOPER: Doug, you wrote the definitive book on Hurricane Katrina, an oral history of what happened. A lot of folks, conservatives, are trying to say this is Barack Obama's Katrina. Is there any comparison?

BRINKLEY: There's no comparison whatsoever between them.

This was a corporate bungle -- it might be three or four corporations by the end of the day -- of a deadly magnitude. Katrina had an engineering failure, the levees in New Orleans, and this is also an engineering failure.

I'd love to see a few more Doug Brinkley's and a few less Dana Perino's on the air speaking truthfully about this issue.

Full transcript below the fold via CNN.

COOPER: Well, there's been some truly weird talk about the Gulf oil spill, and it's coming from both sides of the political spectrum.

Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor -- I think I misspoke a moment ago and said he was a Republican -- he's a Democrat -- Gene Taylor of Mississippi, who is just back from touring the slick, compared it to chocolate milk, saying it's kind of breaking up naturally, and said people shouldn't be scared.

Then there's Rush Limbaugh, who suggested the rig might have exploded, might be part of a plot by environmentalists to promote global warming legislation, and also said it will probably break up naturally.

Of course, there's BP, saying, this is not our accident. It's been trying to get volunteers to sign these waivers for claims against the company.

Joining me now is Riki Ott, who is a marine toxicologist with the Earth Island Institute, also presidential historian Douglas Brinkley -- Brinkley.

Riki, Rush Limbaugh and Gene Taylor say this is just going to break up naturally. A, is that true? And, B, does it mean we should just let nature take its course?

RIKI OTT, MARINE TOXICOLOGIST, EARTH ISLAND INSTITUTE: It's going to break up naturally. We're -- same as in Alaska.

We're going to probably wait 40 years or 50 years before it all breaks up naturally. So, it's a matter of rate. And what we're going to see here probably in Louisiana, with a little bit warmer temperature, maybe a little bit more rapid degradation, maybe a little less than 50 years, but who knows how much less.

COOPER: All right. So, leaving it to nature take its course clearly doesn't make any sense.

Now, Doug, BP, as we just talked about, was trying to get volunteers to sign this waiver. And now they're basically disavowing -- or the head of it is disavowing any knowledge of the waiver, saying it was just a misstep. But, clearly, this thing was written by attorneys specifically for this spill.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Absolutely. OTT: Yes.

BRINKLEY: As soon as they're -- BP is getting called out on something, and then they backtrack.

It's been a mess. The disaster has been BP. And I think those two initials are the DDT of our era. When you think back in 1962, when Rachel Carson wrote "Silent Spring," a whole country woke up to what pesticides do to the environment. That's what this spill is doing to the Gulf. People are going to have to wake up anew. We're going to be looking at all of these shoddy kinds of laws and tricks that big oil has played in the Gulf of Mexico.

And BP has taken a hit for everybody now, but it's their third environmental disaster in the United States in the last five years. They had one in Texas City in '05. They had one up in the North Slope in Alaska in '06, and now this one.

So, for them to be acting not accountable, and putting that kind of waiver, having people sign them, all British Petroleum is doing is trying to skirt responsibility right now. And I think you're seeing a great company crumbling before our eyes.

COOPER: Riki, I mean, to say to volunteers, fishermen whose livelihoods are at stake, who are volunteering, at risk to themselves, to go out into the water and, you know, try to stop this thing from coming ashore, to say, sign this waiver because we don't want you to sue us, is pretty extraordinary.

Have you ever seen anything like it?

OTT: Exact same thing happened in the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Only, workers were paid workers, and they were offered another $600.50 to sign waivers of future health claims. And what the medical doctors...

COOPER: Wait. Wait. Wait a minute. Wait. Exxon was paying people to sign a waiver like this one saying they wouldn't sue in the future?

OTT: At the same time as they were paying them, Exxon was also telling workers, don't worry, this stuff is as safe as pancake syrup, and we have got vest monitoring patches on you, so we will monitor air quality, implying that, if the air quality was harmful, they would pull workers off the beach.

I uncover in courts records, 6,722 cleanup workers who reported upper respiratory illnesses and air quality monitoring data that shows off-the-chart overexposure, and nobody was pulled. The extra 50 cents, by the way, was so Exxon could track the workers when they filed their 1099 forms.

COOPER: Doug, do you buy -- when -- when politicians -- when President Obama says BP is going to pay for this thing in full, do you -- do you -- do you buy that?

BRINKLEY: No. The American people in the end are going to end up paying this immense bill.

Remember, this thing is still gushing. We have, the best-case scenario, another week. It could be a month, where the eco-disaster that is beholding us, the American people are going to have a wakeup.

I mentioned Rachel Carson. When Stewart Udall, who just died this year, our interior secretary, took over then in 1964 for Lyndon Johnson, they pushed through a Wilderness Act. They did clean and scenic rivers. We suddenly woke up to the fact that the Great Lakes were on fire, that chemicals were in them. That's what we're seeing happening to the Gulf of Mexico here.

It's a similar type of crisis. This will be seen in history, the BP spill, as a moment of galvanizing the green movement, climate, conservationists, all in an effort to try to curtail some of this offshore drilling and sloppy oil practices of big corporations.

COOPER: Doug, you wrote the definitive book on Hurricane Katrina, an oral history of what happened. A lot of folks, conservatives, are trying to say this is Barack Obama's Katrina. Is there any comparison?

BRINKLEY: There's no comparison whatsoever between them.

This was a corporate bungle -- it might be three or four corporations by the end of the day -- of a deadly magnitude. Katrina had an engineering failure, the levees in New Orleans, and this is also an engineering failure.

And there's a connection there. But the Obama administration has done nothing wrong. This has been British Petroleum not having a plan A or a plan B or plan C or plan D for coping with capping this. They are winging it. And they are winging it as we speak right now.

And you're going to be seeing more and more whistle-blower memos coming out about British Petroleum -- Bobby Kennedy Jr. was on "LARRY KING" starting it -- about what this company has been hiding and doing in the Gulf of Mexico over the past years.

COOPER: We are going to have to leave it there.

Riki, we will have you on again, Doug Brinkley as well. Thank you very much.

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