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Cleanup lacking leadership, competence

June 30, 2010
It's popular to dump on British Petroleum right now because of the oil spill, as it should be. The company, and the company alone, bears ultimate responsibility for the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that is harming wildlife while destroying the livelihoods of those who depend on its pristine waters.

But once the spill occurred, as owner of the waters where the drilling took place, the federal government joined BP in assuming responsibility for cleanup of the spill, now in its 11th week.

BP should have had a workable solution to such a disaster ahead of time. It's absolutely shameful that a multi-billion-dollar corporation that is willing to assume the risk of drilling thousands of feet under the ocean's surface in order to make billions more doesn't have the technology to contain such a spill.

It's equally abhorrent that the federal government, which requires oil drilling operations to be permitted, didn't ensure that BP had such a response plan and the necessary technology in place. Even worse, however, is how the lack of leadership displayed by the current administration in the aftermath is quickly turning a terrible situation into a far more horrific one.

Instead of being actively engaged from the beginning, the Obama administration has stepped back, initially choosing to trust BP to handle the cleanup and turning away the assistance offered by 13 countries. If those countries have expertise and technology that the United State is lacking, why turn them down?

That misstep was compounded by the administration's unwillingness to approve Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's request for permission to build sand barriers to protect the state's shores from the coming oil. Then, after they were approved, the federal government, because of concerns by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, last week halted the dredging for the needed sand, insisting that the work be moved two more miles away from the coastline.

However, the most damaging move by the administration may be the six-month moratorium on offshore drilling so that the cause of the BP spill can be determined. Much of the Louisiana economy is either directly or indirectly linked to the oil industry, and while BP has set aside $20 billion to compensate those economically harmed by the spill in the meantime, it does nothing for them long term.

The oil companies have millions of dollars invested in the rigs currently sitting in the Gulf of Mexico, and they'll move them elsewhere in the world where they can drill (and make money) instead of having them remain idle. Once the platforms are gone, the companies likely won't return them. Why undergo the expense of moving them back, if just as much money is being made elsewhere?

What are those displaced workers, which, by some estimates, could number 11,000, supposed to do then? The economy already is in terrible shape, with only the influx of almost 600,000 temporary U.S. Census workers keeping the national unemployment rate under 10 percent.

We know that the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency responsible for inspecting the oil rigs, apparently has had too close of a relationship with the oil industry and failed to inspect the BP platform as often as it should have. Although drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has been very safe throughout the years, a thorough investigation certainly should be conducted and stricter regulations considered, but that doesn't mean an entire region's economy should be brought to its knees with a temporary moratorium that, in effect, could become permanent, especially if it's not really needed. Instead, ramp up inspections and clean house at the MMS to re-establish proper boundaries with the oil industry and enforce the regulations already in place.

Fortunately, a federal judge last week overturned the moratorium, but the federal government already has indicated it would appeal, as well as rewrite, the order.

Between BP and the federal government, we're staring down a perfect storm of greed, incompetence and lack of leadership. Unfortunately, it's a storm whose damaging effects may be felt for years.

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Barbara Shaw
Schuler Bauer
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