Sen. David Vitter and Billy Nungesser Talk Gulf Oil Cleanup


The following is a rush transcript of the July 18, 2010, edition of "Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: Joining us now to discuss the situation in the Gulf are Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter and the president of Plaquemines Parish, Billy Nungesser.


Senator Vitter, based on all the information you're getting, just how good is the news about the oil well? And perhaps you can clear up some confusion for us, because a B.P. executive this morning said they liked the cap so much they'd like to keep it on until they kill the plug probably in mid-August.


On the other hand, Thad Allen, as we mentioned, is talking about opening up some aspects of the cap so they can collect the oil and bring it to the surface. Which is it going to be?


SEN. DAVID VITTER, R-LA.: Chris, my understanding is that they are going to still be bringing oil up to the surface and that's the safer route, but that may be in the process of being reexamined. But that was my understanding.


This is obviously big, big news, and hopefully it's going to hold, and hopefully it will mean we're really turning the corner in terms of the ongoing flow. But obviously, everybody is very cautious and these tests are continuing.


So we don't want to declare victory prematurely, but hopefully this will really be turning the corner. Even if it is, we still have major challenges, specifically two -- protecting our marshes and coasts, and dealing with the economic disaster, including the drilling moratorium.


WALLACE: We're going to get to both of those in a minute, but let me bring in Mr. Nungesser.


Are you prepared to say at this point that this well is now under control?


BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT OF PLAQUEMINES PARISH: Well, we're watching it closely. We hope so.  You know, this weekend for the first time our crews are picking up more oil than is being released, because none's being released. Before this, every day was a losing battle because the little bit we were pulling out the marsh, 100 times that was going back in. So we feel like we're making progress.


WALLACE: Senator Vitter, let's get to this question of the cleanup, because both of you are exactly right.




WALLACE: Even if not a drop more oil is spilled into the gulf, according to some estimates...


VITTER: Right.


WALLACE: ... as much as 200 million gallons of oil are already in the water.


Senator Vitter, how long will it...


VITTER: Right.


WALLACE: ... take to clean that up? And how long will it take to restore your state's coastline and especially, as we're seeing here on the screen, that very fragile marsh land?


VITTER: Well, ultimately, it will take years, Chris, and I hope everyone in the nation realizes that so we just don't forget about this story once the flow is stopped.


I also hope President Obama realizes that. He hasn't been to Louisiana since June 4th. I'm afraid he's decided to deal with this issue at least politically by not coming back here and trying to move it off of the front page rather than dealing with the situation forcefully.


Again, even if this flow is stopped permanently, we have major challenges ahead, number one in terms of cleanup, number two in terms of economic devastation, including the drilling moratorium.


WALLACE: But let me just follow up with you there, Senator Vitter.




WALLACE: Why do you -- why do you say that he's moving it off? I know you were very critical -- and we'll get to Mr. Nungesser in a second -- initially in how the Obama administration is handling this. Are you saying they're trying to sweep it under the rug now?


VITTER: I get the impression that is the president's political motivation, his way of dealing with this. He was coming here on a pretty regular basis trying to deal with the issues personally. He hasn't done that in Louisiana since June 4th. That's personally disappointing to me.


WALLACE: Mr. Nungesser, do you feel -- forget the question of the president actually coming down to visit. Do you feel the federal government is acting more quickly, more effectively, now in dealing with the problems that you folks have on the ground there?


NUNGESSER: Well, in the last two weeks, James Lee Witt came aboard, working with B.P., and we've seen a great difference in the response. The crews are now staying out on the water, not spending two hours going back and forth every day or shutting down every time there's a thunderstorm.


And we've made great progress in the amount of oil we're being able to pull out the marsh each day. We have over 6,000 acres just in Plaquemines Parish that have been inundated with oil. That's a massive cleanup if we don't get hit by any more. So the response has been a lot quicker.


I've called a meeting next week with the president of B.P., James Lee Witt and those folks to make sure we keep the boots on the ground and keep the focus out there, because I estimate for another year or two we'll see pockets of oil coming ashore, and we've got to keep the fight out on the front line.


WALLACE: Let's talk about this issue.


And I know, Senator Vitter, you're ready to talk about it, but let me start with Mr. Nungesser.


And that's the controversy over the Obama moratorium on drilling. After his flat ban was rejected twice in federal court, they come up with a new moratorium which, as I say, instead of being a flat ban, now says that yes, rigs can resume drilling if they pass a bunch of safety tests.


Mr. Nungesser, is that any better?


NUNGESSER: Well, you know, I told the president when he came down to Plaquemines Parish we need to put a -- we gave some good explanations. You know, you put a rig marshal out there, you make them 99 percent safer tomorrow -- along with the shutoff valves that they use in the North Sea gives you a fourth safety valve.


If there's any other devices, it doesn't take six months to put the -- to make them safer. Let's sit around a table, get it knocked out and not shut down the oil industry. We just can't take that kind of blow to the economy.


So I'm hoping they'll fast-track it, put whatever on the table they want to do. I'm sure the oil companies will agree to it. And let's move forward. Six months is only going to -- you know, that is not going to solve anything. It looks good on paper. But anything we're going to do, we can do in a lot shorter time.


WALLACE: Senator Vitter, what impact, economic impact, has the moratorium already had on the gulf? And if it were to continue for several more months, what effect would it have on jobs and wages in your region?


VITTER: Chris, it's already been a huge job killer. And if it continues six months or more, it will kill more jobs here than the oil itself. That is the bottom line.


And this isn't a switch you can turn off and then turn on six months and a day. These huge structures are already moving out of the gulf to Brazil, to West Africa, to elsewhere. So this could be a long-term economic hit to the gulf and the country and a long-term hit to our energy and national security. I'm really, really concerned about this moratorium issue.


WALLACE: How many jobs are we talking about here?


VITTER: Oh, I think when you put everything together, you're talking about 140,000 jobs-plus. That hasn't materialized yet, but it's quickly beginning to.


WALLACE: But, Senator -- and we had David Axelrod right here on the set...




WALLACE: ... exactly a week ago and I asked him this very question, and he said, "Look, this is the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of this country. We can't start drilling until we are sure that these companies, one, have fail-safe mechanisms and then, two, if everything goes wrong that they can respond and prevent another disaster."


I mean, that does have a certain logic to it, doesn't it?


VITTER: Well, Chris, it is the worst environmental disaster. That doesn't mean we have to make it a doubly bad economic disaster.


I agree completely with Billy. We can do things right now that dramatically increase the safety measures and that will absolutely prevent what B.P. did, which was reckless to begin with, from ever happening again.


If we put our minds to it and come together, we can do that now, not in six months, or a year or 18 months. For the good of jobs, for the good of the nation's energy and national security, I think we need to do that.


You know, Chris, when an airliner goes down and potentially, in some cases, hundreds of people are killed, that's horrible. That's tragic. But we don't ground every plane the next day until the complete NTSB investigation is completed six months later.


WALLACE: Senator Vitter...


VITTER: We don't do that. We never do that. And we shouldn't.


WALLACE: Senator Vitter, real quickly, because we're beginning to run out of time, is there something...




WALLACE: ... you're going to try to do -- I know that they're not doing very well in federal court, but is there something you're going to try to do in Senate, in Congress, to block these moratoria?


VITTER: Well, absolutely. I've joined together with many other senators and we have a bill that I'm the lead sponsor of to end the moratorium.


I'm also meeting on a regular basis with Secretary Salazar, other administration officials, giving them very good, specific, concrete ideas of safety measures we can do now, today, tomorrow, to lift the moratorium.


WALLACE: And finally, we have less than a minute less, Mr. Nungesser.  I just wonder, not to get ahead of ourselves as the president says, but is there a feeling of hope in Plaquemines Parish this morning that there hasn't been for 90 days?


NUNGESSER: Absolutely. When I was at a town hall meeting and I announced it, cheers broke out in the room, and I saw hope in the face of these fishermen that they can get their life back soon. So we're very optimistic. We see light at the end of the tunnel. It's a very long tunnel, but today we're making progress.


WALLACE: Mr. Nungesser, Senator Vitter, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you both so much for talking with us, and I speak for everyone...


VITTER: Thanks, Chris.


WALLACE: ... when I say good luck with the oil spill.


VITTER: Thank you.


NUNGESSER: Thank you, Chris.