WASHINGTON – The federal official running the BP oil spill response today proposed having a third party from the oil industry represent polluters to correct perceptions that the company responsible in such disasters is in charge of cleaning up the mess.
Incident Commander Thad Allen told a panel appointed by President Barack Obama to investigate the oil spill that BP in no way tried to short-change costs, even though the public and politicians thought the company did. He proposed that someone from the oil industry could represent the polluter in future spills, instead of the company at fault, and eliminate the “the perception that the responsible party is intimately involved in the response,” which he said raises questions about who is in charge.
In the days and weeks following the April accident, the Obama administration struggled to show it was in control. Oil spill law drafted after the massive Exxon Valdez spill is partly to blame, because it gives the company responsible for the spill a central role.
The two-day meeting of the spill commision will also look at other potential missteps by the administration, including the controversial use of chemical dispersants, a moratorium on deep-water drilling and Obama’s plans to make the Gulf’s environment better than it was before the accident.
“Much was done well in responding to this spill, other things not so,” said former Sen. Bob Graham, the co-chairman of the panel. Five years after Hurricane Katrina he said “many have the same questions whether the government moved quickly enough and was effective enough in its activities, its communication and its partnership with state and local governments.”
William K. Reilly, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator who co-leads the panel, described the relationship between BP and the federal government as an “uneasy partnership,” adding “it’s very difficult to make the case that we were well prepared.”
The April 20 explosion and fire killed 11 workers, sunk the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and unleashed 206 million gallons of crude oil. It also tested the oil industry’s and government’s capabilities to respond to a massive blowout in deep water.
A BP PLC official said Monday that while no single entity could have handled the response alone, it was clear the government was calling the shots.
“I can assure you that at all times the Coast Guard was in charge,” said Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operation officer for exploration and production.
But Billy Nungesser — president of Plaquemines Parish, one of the coastal areas most affected by the spill — told the oil spill commission that he still doesn’t know who is in charge.
“It became a joke … the Houma command was the Wizard of Oz, some guy behind the curtain,” Nungesser said. “We never got a yes or no, we just kept waiting and waiting.”