Robert Reich on the current BP debacle, and what the prez should do about it

BP is still in control of the cleanup effort. The administration is looking ahead, and still unwilling to push anything forward. Obama just met with David Cameron, new prime minister of England. At the end of the day we are gonna be talking about tens of billions of dollars. The legislation that covers this issue is called the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, but it is still a bit murky, and the administration has not tried to put forth its own interpretation of it yet.

So the administration is saying: Hey BP, help more, help harder, pretty please. And BP is responding: ya ya, we’re, you know, doing what we can.

Reich wants the Prez to really take charge: of BP’s assets here; to temporarily take over in order to oversee cleanup.

BP is following the impeccable logic of any corporation: maximize shareholder profits. Under this logic, it hardly has incentive to fix the mess accept insofar as the mess hurts profits. So it puts a good face on things, offers to try to patch up a little here and there, and hopes it will all land int eh government’s lap.


What’s happening in the Gulf is the worst environmental disaster in American history. It defies common sense for the President to delegate most of its solution to the same corporation whose negligence in all likelihood created it.

The public deeply distrusts BP, with good reason. Its record to date has been cutting corners to make profits. Yes, BP’s expertise may be necessary now. But how can we believe BP is using all the resources at its disposal to stop the leak? (A petroleum engineer told me earlier this week that BP has some two dozen tankers in the Gulf that could be siphoning off the oil, and has shut down work on the second relief well in order to cannibalize parts from it for the primary kill effort.)

How can we trust that decisions BP continues to make – such as the use of toxic dispersants – properly weigh risks to the safety and health of Americans?

And as BP continues to pay out dividends to its shareholders, how can we trust it will have enough capital to pay all the costs of cleanup, not to mention the costs to businesses and individauls of the devastation it’s wrought?

For the President to stand apart from all this – to set up a commission to study how it happened and instruct the Justice Department to inquire into the possibility that civil and criminal fines may be appropriate – is both poliltically unwise and against the public’s interest. I fear Americans will come to see it as a dereliction of duty.

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