Doomed Decisions: Congressional Report Hammers “BP-White House Partnership” for Bungled Spill Response


The Republican-controlled House of Representatives released a hard-hitting report late last week roundly criticizing the White House-BP partnership for its handling of the Gulf oil spill response and recovery.

Though in many ways it’s a purely partisan report, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is correct in taking the Administration to task over the distinct lack of leadership it displayed during a crisis that President Obama himself described as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

The BP oil spill has become Obama’s Hurricane Katrina – and as “W” can tell you, that ain’t exactly a feather in your cap.

Early on, the White House made a series of “pass the buck” decisions that pushed us irreversibly down the path to the mess we’re in today – with victims not fairly compensated, beaches and marshes not fully cleaned up and Gulf seafood not trusted by the vast majority of consumers. Although the report – titled “The BP Oil Spill Recovery Effort: The Legacy of Choices Made by the Obama Administration” – didn’t get much oxygen during a week when matters of earth-shattering import like lewd photos of a House member (so to speak) are devouring every last second of the national attention span, it does contain some important points.

According to the report, President Obama had two choices: Keep control of the spill response within the federal government or cede control to BP. While the oil company would have been required to pay cleanup costs in either situation, Obama chose to hand over control to BP. That decision demonstrated a lack of leadership at a time when leadership was desperately needed.

My guess is it was a political move more than anything else because of the huge downside that comes with shouldering responsibility for a massive spill response. It was much easier for the White House to hedge its bet by simply abdicating control to BP – but it certainly wasn’t the right thing to do for the environment or the people of the Gulf Coast.

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the committee that produced the report, had this to say:

“The response to the oil spill was a partnership between the White House and BP. While the arrangement may have worked well for BP and the White House, many spill victims feel otherwise. From frustration about the compensation process to the devastating economic impact of the drilling moratorium, evidence presented in this report raises many questions about the wisdom of the Administration’s policies including the decision to put BP at the forefront of managing and leading the recovery effort.”

The congressional report highlights the assertion from many Gulf residents and local public officials that BP is not meeting its obligations – dictated by the Oil Pollution Act – to make things right in the post-spill world. As a New Orleans native, I couldn’t agree more. BP has come up way short on a range of critically important efforts, including victim compensation and beach cleanup. BP’s failure to live up to its obligations and promises is deplorable in light of the enormous damage it has done across the Gulf Coast, but what makes matters even worse is that our federal government has abandoned its responsibility to intervene on behalf of spill victims. That’s unforgivable.

Gulf residents deserve better, like a government that’s got their back.

Here are the key findings from the report laid out by Biloxi-based WLOX-TV:

1. The Administration ceded leadership and management responsibilities for addressing the suffering of oil spill victims to BP.

2. President Obama had to choose between federalizing the response to the oil spill under the Stafford Act or allowing BP to lead the effort under federal oversight under the authorities of the Oil Spill Act. While BP would have been financially responsible for clean-up costs under either scenario, President Obama chose the option of letting BP lead and make critical decisions on recovery efforts under the authority of the Oil Spill Act.

3. Failure to fund removal of clean-up equipment debris, uncertainty surrounding mental health services, and frustration associated with the compensation process are among the concerns of affected Gulf Coast residents. Many believe BP is not meeting its obligations and the federal government has abdicated its responsibility to intervene.

4. Before implementing the drilling moratorium, administration documents indicate officials made false assumptions about effects and job losses

5. In examining the economic impact of imposing a drilling moratorium, the Administration relied on numerous false assumptions. In one internal analysis, the Administration assumed that “drilling could re-start on January 1, 2011.” In reality, the first new drilling permit was not issued until months later.

6. Alarmingly, in dismissing larger projections of unemployment the document also noted, “we are comfortable with our conservative approach because the loss in employment is not long term, so the full effects of the indirect and induced employment may not be fully felt as some businesses may be willing to sustain short term losses to avoid having to lay off and subsequently rehire workers.”

7. As oil rigs leave the Gulf, layoffs continue, and the economic consequences of the moratorium continue these assumptions have been exposed as deeply flawed.

8. After the spill, the administration’s reorganization of the agency that regulates drilling ignored critical input.

Ultimately, the White House decision to cede control to BP meant there was no transparency, no accountability, and consequently, the response was deeply flawed and the recovery is foundering – leaving Gulf residents angry, frustrated, and in some instances, irreparably broken.

Here’s a HuffPo piece by enviro-activist Jerry Cope:

Read the full WLOX-TV story here:

Review the House report here: OGR_Report_BP_Oil_Spill_Recovery_Effort

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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