Current Van Ness Feldman Senior Policy Advisor and former Senator Mary Landrieu, recently sat down with Politico to discuss life after the Senate. Below is the full text of the interview.
PoliticoPro Q&A: Mary Landrieu
By Elana Schor
Over the course of three terms in the Senate, Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu became synonymous with the type of "all of the above" energy policymaking that draws barbs from fossil-fuel companies and environmentalists in almost equal measure. She rose to the chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a hard-fought reelection run in 2014, but ultimately lost her seat to Bill Cassidy (R-La.).
POLITICO's Elana Schor spoke to Landrieu, 60, at her post-Congress home base in Washington, the law firm Van Ness Feldman, where she signed on as a senior policy adviser last year. Landrieu addressed her legislative legacy, from the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, or GOMESA - which sets up the first revenue-sharing framework for states to begin receiving a cut of royalties from offshore drilling - to the RESTORE Act, which sets aside for state-level restoration efforts 80 percent of the fines from BP's Deepwater Horizon oil disaster that occurred six years ago Wednesday.
Q. When it comes to energy, what are your goals for the next couple of years, policy-wise?
A. Unfortunately the energy debate is very polarized - [you have] the "leave it in the ground" crowd, no fossil fuels, and you can have the crowd that's fossil fuels only, or primarily. And this firm is truly all of the above, both Democratic and Republican. So I'm comfortable here, because that's basically where I've been as a senator, an elected official, a policymaker - I believe America can and should be energy independent. We certainly can be energy-secure.
I'm glad to be here, because I want to stay in the debate. I may not be inside the ropes, like they say, in the Senate, on the Senate floor, but I can be very influential in policies that are discussed. I'm still under restrictions as to lobbying, but I can be very influential within the administration.
We've seen the Democratic presidential field shift pretty far to the left when it comes to the "keep it in the ground" side of things. Do you think you can play a role in moderating that?
I don't think that's Secretary [Hillary] Clinton's position. ... In primary campaigns, I think the candidates get pulled by the nature of the primary to the left on the Democratic side and on the Republican side to the right. But in a general election, I think you'll get a much clearer picture of what the true position of both candidates will be. [Clinton] has made some comments that, in some ways, have been misinterpreted about her position on fracking - which is, she doesn't support a fracking ban. She supports fracking to be safe and secure.
And so do I. I don't think fracking should be done without environmental safeguards, but I also don't think false statements should continue to be made about dangers to water systems, when to my knowledge there hasn't been one example of a negative impact to a water supply in the 65 years since the technology has been used. Could it happen? Yeah. Could the Capitol collapse one day? Yes, it's possible. But certain things are likely and certain things are unlikely.
You pointed out earlier that energy policy has become very polarized, that this debate over energy doesn't have a lot of voices in the middle.
I actually believe there are a few loud voices on both sides, but the center on this is wider. It's quiet right now, because there's no voice for it, because you're in a primary situation. But I know from my vast experience that the majority of Americans understand that climate change is real, that it's caused by human activity, that there's no doubt that carbon is contributing - but we have to take reasonable and responsible steps, and just ending fossil fuels in the next five years is pie-in-the-sky. Fossil fuels are going to be a part of moving us to a greener, cleaner less impactful energy situation.
This is a big week for your state, with the sixth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Are you concerned that it's taken this long for settlement money to start flowing toward impacted local populations?
It's taken longer to finalize than we had hoped, but considering that it took 20 or 25 years for the Exxon Valdez [settlement to process], the fact that it took us six years is progress. The proof will be in the pudding once this money starts hitting the ground. That's going to happen over the next five years.
The RESTORE Act was a big breakthrough, and I'm very proud of the role I played in that with Sen. [Richard] Shelby (R-Ala.) to direct fines back to the Gulf of Mexico. This was a real precedent-setting, first-of-its-kind redirection of those fines. And the cooperation between those four states is something that's new. It brings its own set of challenges, but it also forges a partnership of Gulf Coast states that's now true and real, that should benefit our region for years to come. So it's too early to tell right now, but the next 24 months will be really telling.
Not all of the increasingly common severe weather events that are causing flooding can be conclusively attributed to climate change, but the link can be an important part of this debate and it's obviously important to the Gulf Coast. Do you think policymakers are communicating effectively with people about this?
People that live by the coast, all coasts, are paying attention and reading news reports about the sea level rise. They're experiencing it themselves in real time. I say the coasts, but it's also riverine flooding. ... This is not necessarily something people need to hear from Washington. It's something they're seeing with their own eyes. It's important for policymakers to know that people see this as a real threat and they want answers.
Which is why I fought so hard for the RESTORE Act, why I fought so hard for GOMESA. It's why I'm extremely disappointed that [Interior] Secretary [Sally] Jewell or President Obama would suggest that money should not be spent in the Gulf Coast. They've recommended it for repeal, which is hard to even grasp, because it's the first money those coastal states that produce oil and gas for the benefit of the whole nation have ever gotten to help protect us against sea level rise - and against the intrusions of and consequences of pipelines laid through our marshes. However, happily, I don't think their efforts will be successful and they have been curbed pretty seriously by a Congress that knows better.
If a Clinton administration called and asked you to help next year, would you?
It would be very hard for me to turn down a sincere request from Secretary Clinton, because I admire and respect her. However, I am not looking for a position. I'm very happy where I am now, and I'm really enjoying the freedom of being outside government. It doesn't feel like I'm out of the loop. It just feels like I'm in a different loop, and it's a happy loop.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.