I was watching a bunch of the Sunday talk news shows this past weekend, and most had at least a segment on the BP oil well disaster in the Gulf. Several people from both sides of the political spectrum seemed incredulous that the government or the military or someone competent didn’t just go down there and stop the leak. Why are we letting BP continue to flail at this?
Jason Sudeikis has a recurring character on SNL known as the Fix It Guy. (See the video here at about the 2:15 mark). The pundits and politicians reminded me of this character with their calls to “just fix it!”
A few sane voices tried to point out that the problem at this point is not one of funding or will power, or competence. This is a really intractable engineering problem that no one knows how to fix. BP and the other oil companies likely have the best chance of coming up with a solution, but they are making this up as they go. It’s not like there’s an Army Engineering Corp unit sitting around a poker table grousing that if only they’d let them at it they’d have this puppy capped by sunrise tomorrow. There’s no crackpot scientist with a fix waiting to go. And so far Aquaman hasn’t returned BP’s call.
With regard to capping the damaged well, it’s not clear the government has much to offer, and they haven’t taken the lead because they are not the ones with the expertise. Yet this doesn’t mean for a second that the government should let up on the pressure for BP to get this under control. However, there are a couple of things the government should be actively doing or planning for.
First, the Interior department needs its house cleaned. Clearly the incestuous relationship of the extractive industries and the Interior department has resulted in a system where there is essentially no oversight. Yes, this department was pretty much dismantled by the Bush Administration, but Obama hasn’t cleaned it up at all since he’s been there. If ever there was a wake up call, this was it. Secretary Salazar should be out, and a good top down flush should follow. It would send a clear message to the oil companies that the party is over.
Second, the cleanup is coming. The environmental and economic damage from this spill will be enormous. And this is something the government does know how to handle and should take a lead in. BP should still get the bill (and not capped at $75m either), but they should not be organizing clean up efforts and making decisions about who gets what aid and when. So far, while Obama hasn’t dropped the ball on this, he’s not stepped up to the plate either.
If this disaster has a chance of becoming “Obama’s Katrina”, it will be because of a failure on the cleanup and the organizational fixes to assure there is never a repeat of this. Not because the well isn’t capped. The time to act is now Mr. President.
And on an ironic side note, Sarah Palin accused Obama of being in bed with the oil companies. Aside from the obvious, it’s worth noting that husband Todd spent 18 years working for BP. So who’s in bed with whom?