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The Federal Government Must Take Charge of the BP Oil Disaster

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A month after the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama Administration has appointed a blue-ribbon committee to study the causes of the spill and issue a report within six months - a belated bureaucratic response if there ever was one. While President Obama insists that BP will be held responsible for the spill and "will be paying the bill," the greater concern is: When will the environmental disaster be contained? And why is the culprit still in charge?

The implications of the BP oil disaster for the world are enormous - and far too great to be entrusted to a company with a history of environmental crimes, which is still on probation for some of them. The fact that BP will likely be named in upcoming criminal complaints and lawsuits is even more reason for observers to question their central role in response and their primary role in management of information.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton recently commented: "What we've done is worked with the responsible party to do everything we can to stop oil from leaking from the bottom of the Gulf and to mitigate the environmental disaster that we're seeing in the water right now. We are obviously working with BP because, frankly, they have the equipment that's necessary in order to get down to the bottom of the Gulf to help plug that hole."

BP should not be in charge simply because they "have the equipment" - any more than the oil industry should be in charge of regulation simply because they "have the equipment." The devastating results of that approach are quite visible in the Gulf of Mexico right now. As recently as September 2009, BP lobbied Congress extensively in opposition to regulations designed to prevent exactly the kind of disaster that we are experiencing today.

This Wednesday, BP begins its latest attempt to stanch the flow from the Deepwater Horizon well using a 'top kill' approach, which involves the injection of heavy drilling mud into the breach, and if that fails, they are talking about capping it with another containment dome - a method that's failed before.

Over a month has passed since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank in the Gulf of Mexico, triggering this disaster. We still don't know how much oil has been released, how to stop the spewing well, or when this ecological tragedy will end. And yet BP is still in charge.

Why has the Obama Administration not called for a national emergency, allowing the Administration to take control of the crisis and force more accountability and transparency from BP? Over a month into the disaster, the government seems to have no real say about what approaches will be taken to cap the gusher, seems unable to influence which dispersants will be used, and can't seem to get full or reliable information from BP personnel about what they're doing. To add insult to injury, it is still nearly impossible to get a reasonable level of public transparency in the response process, particularly in Louisiana, which is the hardest hit to date.

As the oil continues to gush, BP insists on trivializing this disaster, their CEO Tony Hayward claiming in an interview that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is "relatively tiny" compared with the "very big ocean." Why would we trust the leadership of the response effort to a company who continues to fail to see the errors of its ways?

It's time that we find out what's really going on at the well and see what progress we can achieve with BP in a harness, instead of the driver's seat.

Kristine Stratton is Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance, the global environmental organization uniting more than 190 Waterkeeper programs around the world and focusing citizen advocacy on the issues that affect our waterways, from pollution to climate change. More information on the Alliance can be found at www.waterkeeper.org.

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