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Bill Donius

Bill Donius

Posted: June 7, 2010 04:26 PM

How Will the Oil Spill, Politically? Who Is in Charge?

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Combine tragedy, political opportunists and amnesia of past history; what do you get?... an oil spill that can be spun to tar the Obama Administration. Since we are a country that wants to blame the current presidential administration for all that is right and wrong with the country; it is easy to understand how this process works. This task is easier since we are also a country that is increasingly politically polarized.

Enter President Obama. Is the spill somehow the result of the failure of his administration after seventeen months on the job? It would make things vastly simpler if this was the case, as the country could then direct their anger on him and his administration. This may be psychologically purging, but it is not accurate.

As with many economic trends, legislative changes and priorities typically occur over time. If we want to identify the root cause of what allowed the oil spill to occur in the Gulf of Mexico, we must look to how the spill occurred and the regulatory environment governing conditions for operating oil wells.

It has been documented in the past weeks, BP ignored a number of cautionary signs in their quest to continue drilling, making up lost time and getting profits back on track. The primary cause of the tragedy was a string of poor management decisions at BP.

These decisions were made in a regulatory environment led by former oil industry executive turned U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. After Cheney and Bush were elected they sought input from oil company executives and made many changes to ensure big government would not get in the way of the opportunity for enhancing profits for the oil industry. Wholesale changes were made to defang the Minerals Management Service, the entity designed to regulate the drilling industry.

One of the changes made was eliminating the need for oil rigs to purchase an emergency shut-off cap. At $500,000 this was deemed to be an expensive and unnecessary luxury. The proposed rational was oil platform staff could perform this task, obviating the need for an emergency cap. Turns out, of course, the cap was not a luxury but a necessity for emergency situations. Saved: $500,000, Lost: $14 billion and counting. Lost: employee lives, major damage to the environment, including the precious wetlands ecosystems. Potentially lost: livelihoods of fishermen, other related job losses in the region, ability of fragile wetlands ecosystems to bounce back and god only knows what else.

Can Republicans take this trail of mucky oil floating in the Gulf and legitimately try to blame this crisis on the Obama administration? Can those favoring small government now legitimately claim we need bigger government in order to fix this problem? You can't have it both ways unless you expect the American public to have amnesia. We're not fooled this easily.

Now that the disaster has occurred, it does raise the more difficult problem of who should be in charge of fixing the problem? Since BP caused the problem is it their responsibility to fix it? Are they qualified to fix the problems and stop the flow of oil into the Gulf? If not, who is better qualified? And, whose job is it to decide who is best qualified to fix the problem?

This disaster is shaping up much differently than the financial disaster in which the Treasury Secretary and U.S. Federal Reserve was able to step in with swift, dramatic, decisive actions. Their actions blunted what would have been a far greater financial meltdown.

It appears the Obama administration is appropriately prioritizing the oil spill. In addition, the administration is taking steps to ensure financial remuneration occurs. Next up, action needed to ensure the Minerals Management Service is re-calibrated to properly do its job.

Let's get both political parties to focus on constructive steps to solve the problem and better protect the country from the next disaster.

 

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