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Is BP a necessary villain!

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`Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



British Petroleum, the overseas oil giant, is under siege from every direction as they struggle to cap the massive Gulf oil spill.  The BP stock price has plummeted 25% since the start of the spill, and company officials have been hauled daily before a litany of federal and state regulatory and legislative committees.  It’s hard to keep track of the numerous daily lawsuits that have been filed all along the Gulf Coast.  And in the latest salvo, Attorney General Eric Holder launched a criminal investigation, noting that there is “a wide` range of possible criminal violations.”Â  But if BP collapses under the weight of all this cross fire, who are the real losers?

How about quite buying BP gasoline? Ralph Nader’s consumer-advocacy group Public Citizen is calling for a national moratorium to boycott BP gas stations.  You can go to Facebook where thousands of members swear to bypass any BP retail outlets.  But most of the BP service stations are independently owned, so a boycott hurts individual retailers who live in the local community that is doing the boycotting. Does this really hurt the BP corporate entity that operates internationally?

The criminal investigation will cause BP executives to scurry and find lawyers, who will strongly advise all those being investigated to say nothing.  This is a critical time when company officials should be solely focused on shutting down the spill and cleaning up their mess.  Is it wise to put a chill on their efforts by waiving possible criminal charges over their heads?  It’s like the farmer who accidently starts a grass fire and has the only tools to bring the fire under control.  He’s told to just put his efforts aside and come to town so as to answer possible charges.  Just let the fire burn.

If laws were broken, then a full investigation, both civil and criminal, should be undertaken.  But is it wise to pull away the folks who have a great deal of institutional knowledge about the problem, and who have a huge vested interest in getting the spill contained?  There will be plenty of time to get into the “fault” business.  Now should be the time to gather every resource, including those with the knowledge to solve the crisis, and move the clean up forward.  It would seem that the public officials in charge are cutting off their nose to spite their face.

This is far from any defense for BP, and the various subcontractors that failed time and time again to carry out required checks and balances.  But those in the private sector, who know they have vast exposure and who are desperately trying to find a way to cap the spill, are dealing with contradictory messages and orders from  federal regulators.  Just a week ago, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar proclaimed:   “If we find that BP is not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we’ll push them out of the way appropriately.”

Not so, says Coast Guard head and national incident commander Thad Allan, who the next day at the White House said:  “To push BP out of the way, it would raise a question:  Replace them with what?”

Allan, who is in the trenches fighting the “Spill War” daily, is blunt in observing that:  “What makes this an unprecedented anomalous event is access to the discharge site that is controlled by the technology that was used for the drilling, which is owned by the private sector.”Â  In simple English, BP and team have whatever helpful knowledge is available, and the feds do not. So be careful to whom you start hollering about criminal charges, at least until the problem is solved.

Maybe BP should not be the source of solving the problem, and there should have been a rapid and forceful federal response.  But this presupposes that both the feds and the Gulf States had the foresight to have put together a “Plan B.”Â  Whose fault is it that so much authority and knowledge exists only in the private sector?  If this is a public body of water, then where is the public response?  None such exists say any knowledgeable observers.

The Washington Post’s E.J.Dionne writes that “deregulation is wonderful until we discover what happens when regulations aren’t issued or enforced. Everyone is a capitalist until a private company blunders.  Then everyone starts talking like a socialist, presuming that the government can put things right, because they see it as being just as big and powerful as its tea party critics claim.”

The fact is that we are stuck with BP and whatever technical drilling knowledge they can bring to the table.  Government has sat on the sidelines for years giving vast responsibilities over to the oil industry.  Even worse, there is ample evidence that the little regulation that took place by the Minerals Management Service was in full collusion with BP and other major oil companies.

The public interest was far from being served. The country cannot have it both ways.  If there is any doubt about this, one only needs to look at the sludge in the Gulf, which is, sadly, a product of our own contradictions.


 “We will die a slow death over the next two years as this oil creeps ashore.”

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all is past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am central time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.

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