Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Beyond Petroleum

There will be a certain schadenfreude in watching BP CEO Tony Hayward squirm when he testifies before Congress next week.  He certainly deserves the grilling and it will be a defining moment for Republicans on the committee if they tone down their questions to placate their corporate sponsors.  Whether or not Hayward knew the specifics of the pre-explosion violations on the Deepwater Horizon rig, it is he who sets the tone of the company, and even today continues spewing arrogance and lies with the same ferocity that his well is spewing oil.  BP’s estimate of the magnitude of the oil has proven to be grossly underreported, and the company still restricts the press from reporting on and photographing the horrendous damage.  BP is spending millions of dollars on newspaper and television advertising while nickel-and-diming fishermen’s claims.

While Hayward is the place where the buck stops, there are other intermediaries who also must pay for their misdeeds.  Senior- and middle-level management at BP knew about the lack of adequate precautions, and their vandalizing of the Louisiana coastlands is deserving of criminal charges.  The same can be said for the management of Halliburton and Transocean, who are co-conspirators in this racket.

Certainly, the regulatory agencies are not without blame.  Those individuals in the Minerals Management Service who are found to be complicit should, at a minimum, lose their jobs and pensions, and be forbidden to hold government jobs in the future. 

All roads in this disaster lead to the secret 2001 Dick Cheney energy task force.  President Obama should ensure that the deliberations and participants of this cabal be made public immediately.

In order to preserve the evidence at the crime scene, the President should immediately appropriate BP’s resources and have the government manage the clean-up and after-action reporting.  Allowing BP to continue operations in the Gulf is no different than allowing a burglar to revisit the scene of his crime and tamper with the evidence.

Finally, the President should appoint a blue-ribbon investigative commission with subpoena power to get to the root cause of this disaster.  The commission should include experts from academia and environmental organizations.  While it is inevitable that some of the commission members would be politicians, no politician who accepted significant donations from the energy industry should be allowed to participate.

If Hayward and his co-conspirators go scot-free, this will not establish a precedent, since other executives who have committed similar crimes have also escaped punishment.  If we don’t hold these people accountable, what’s to prevent a Chernobyl from happening here when another executive puts profits ahead of people and the environment?

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