The Lens contacted Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office recently to discuss her role in the oil spill response. In an interview with Tom Michaels, the senator’s legislative director, and Aaron Saunders, her communications director, we discussed campaign contributions from BP and from the maker of the dispersants and whether drilling for oil continues to be a worthy domestic prospect for the future.

The Lens: What role has Sen. Landrieu played in the decision of what kind of dispersant to use on the oil?m

Tom Michaels: None. That decision is up to the EPA and the on-scene coordinator.
The Lens: In 2008, dispersant-maker Nalco contributed $3,000 to Sen. Landrieu’s campaign. Given that investment in a Louisiana Congress member, does that compromise the decision to prefer it over other brands.

Aaron Saunders: We don’t do anything with campaigns or contributions out of this office.

Michaels: I’ll just say this — the same as with BP — campaign contributions have absolutely zero effects on the policy agenda of the senator as it relates to the spill or generally. A lot of crap comes up about this issue and it gets under my skin. Sen. Landrieu has been a supporter of the oil and gas industries not because she is in love with oil or because she’s getting campaign contributions but because it employs 13.4 percent of people in Louisiana. . If you want to look at campaign contributions I think you have to look at the whole story. Some of the people who gave money to Sen. Landrieu are trial lawyers who will be suing the pants off many of these companies involved in the spill.

The Lens: Does Sen. Landrieu support offshort drilling as a permanent part of the nation’s energy policy future, or as a temporary bridge to renewable, carbon-neutral sources?

Michaels: She absolutely believes that it’s a bridge to future renewable energy sources. These groups that are calling for us to stop drilling, though, they are immoral and they are doing more at abandoning the environment than the oil companies. Stopping domestic oil production doesn’t do anything to reduce our consumption of oil. This entire country and world consumes oil. If we don’t get it here we will get it from somewhere else. And those other places will have more lax regulatory standards, and will lack the will and resources to deal with their ecosystems.

Saunders: A lot of offshore drilling is for exploration of natural gas and a huge swath of people believe that this can be a bridge to take us away from fossil fuels. The Lens: Do you believe that environmental groups are framing it as a black-and-white issue, where oil is evil and renewable is perfect?

Michaels: Yes, I couldn’t agree with that more, and I think the senator would agree as well. The way she came to be involved with the oil and gas industries, she saw it as a revenue source to fund the revitalization of the coast and wetlands. Throughout that time she has come to learn more about the industry. She respects them as people providing a commodity that people need, but I don’t think she thinks they are heroes, or better or worse than any other company.

Saunders: We are working with the conservation groups. In fact, in the last two weeks we’ve introduced the revenue sharing bill so that a fair share of revenue from the oil and gas industries is diverted back to Louisiana. A whole sweep of conservation groups  endorsed this plan and the sharing of revenue so we are working with these groups, and so it’s not a black and white issue, and those who call it a black and white issue are on the fringe here.

The Lens: Have you considered the irony that for the state’s coastal restoration, you are asking for revenue from the very industries that are right now destroying the coast?

Michaels: I think that is why it should come from them. I I think again you would still have tankers coming up to the LOOP (Louisiana Offshore Oil Port) and to New Orleans and that would also place the wetlands at risk, just as much as offshore drilling would. So the middle ground is that we will continue drilling and also keep tightening the knot on regulation, but accidents will happen again I’m sure. In the meantime, you will pay to invest in the communities that bear the risk and will be most heavily impacted.

Saunders: That is precisely the argument that Senator Landrieu is making. This has definitely been exacerbated by the oil spill, but this is not the result of the oil spill.

Michaels: You take from nature, you have to give back to nature. But this has been a century of mismanagement, of the oil and gas pipelines and everything else. This is an ecological disaster that has been unfolding for a hundred years. This is just the latest squirt of lemon juice into the wound.