Friday, June 4, 2010

BP Broke It; BP Owns It


As appealing as we found Robert Reich's recommendation that President Obama put BP into receivership for the duration of the Gulf crisis, we are more persuaded by a response posted on TPM.

Skocpol Responds to Reich on what Obama should do ...

I like Bob Reich and consider him a friend, but he is nuts. [see article Skocpol is responding to here] There is a reason why the right, including Sarah Palin, is calling for Obama to "take charge" of the BP disaster, including fixing the leaking pipe. This is a problem that cannot be solved, and probably will not be for many months.

They want Obama to directly own it so they can reinforce their message that government does not work. Why should liberals, stupidly, be pushing for this? I cannot figure out what the left and many liberal pundits think they are doing in all this.

When a huge private corporation makes a mess and cannot fix it, it is sheer lunacy to take direct charge of that mess unless you can fix it right away.

Obama and the government can (a) hold BP accountable in criminal and financial terms; and (b) orchestrate the mitigation, restitution, and financial help for the regions affected. They are doing this and should be as visible as possible about steps in both areas. The last thing they should do is take charge of fixing the leak itself when they cannot.

UPDATE: Robert Reich responds:

I like Theda Skocpol and consider her a friend, but she's got this one backwards. It's not "political lunacy" for the president to take charge of this mess. It's political lunacy for him not to. Would she propose that if a military contractor accidentally fired off a missile, or a the owner of a nuclear reactor accidentally allowed it to melt down, or a food processor accidentally sent off deadly bacteria into America's food chain, that the President should not take control because he couldn't "fix" these disasters right away? Or he shouldn't get involved because the political right might subsequently use his efforts to reinforce its message that the government doesn't work?

This is the worst environmental disaster in American history. It defies common sense for the President to delegate 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 individuals of the devastation it's wrought?

For the President to stand apart from all this - to merely 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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