The tragedy of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is being compounded by amateurish performance of the Federal Government in responding to the spill—or more appropriately not responding to it well enough.

There are three clear priorities for action in this situation:

  1. Put the Oil Industry to Work Helping BP Stop the Leak and Creating an Oil Industry Emergency Response Protocol. There is plenty of finger pointing and demands for action but the simple truth is the highest priority is capping the leak but the simple reality is that is unlikely until the relief wells are completed perhaps not until August by last account.  If I was in the President’s place I would call on the CEOs of every major oil company and ask them to help BP get the leak stopped ASAP.  He should ask their help in instituting a mutual aid system to deploy the best experience, best equipment and best  minds across the industry just like we do for onshore emergencies which should survive this spill emergency.
  2. Empower the Governors with Federal Authority and Resources to Mitigate the Spill Damage and Clean Up the Mess. The second priority is mitigating the onshore and marine oil damage and then cleaning up the mess.  Here the Feds appear to be impeding progress by delaying approvals, turning down needed equipment and failing to let the Governor’s in the effective states lead the way to direct the actions they believe are most likely to minimize the damage.  They have all the incentive to do so, but lack the authority and resources to execute it.  The President missed another opportunity to turn around a stumbling situation and get people focused on the clean up.  He should order the Feds to work directly with the Governors and deputize each of them to lead those efforts in their states in conjunction with Admiral Thad Allen.  The Feds can bridge loan the money to the States and collect repayment from BP to lubricate the clean-up process. Admiral Allen should have the authority to order Federal actions as he believe necessary to the emergency and Obama should back him up.
  3. Demand Quick Action to Mitigate the Loss of Business and Livelihood and Begin Paying Claims. Practically speaking, how does BP deal with the immediate problem of mitigating the economic losses to businesses and loss of employment caused by the spill in the absence of a claims and payment system?  There are several ‘rough justice’ options that can help including an infusion of cash to the state unemployment insurance systems to pay those who have lost their jobs; cash payments to businesses affected based upon a claims adjuster’s examination of tax returns or other financial statements to verify income levels for a specific number of months as a first payment; emergency grant funds paid to charitable organizations to cover those in need who fall through the cracks.  Such actions and other like them gives BP a fighting chance of setting up a claims process that is fair, quick and legitimate.

The President’s address June 15th spent very little time on these priorities.  It was a major disappointment because it devolved all too quickly into a campaign speech for his cap and trade legislation.  I’m sure this was not what the people along the Gulf coast expected to hear, nor is it something the rest of the nation seems to support.  Far from reassuring us and giving us confidence that he is on top of these problems, the President left us wondering whether he is in over his head or just not ‘letting a good crisis go to waste’ in the pursuit of his political agenda above all else.

The crassness of using this speech to promote an baldly political cap and trade bill was bad form.  The President called his speech his ‘battle plan’ but it seemed more like counting votes for Waxman-Markey or advancing his anti-fossil fuel agenda.  This is insult to the injury the Gulf Coast is suffering.

There will be plenty of time after the spill is stopped and the clean-up is well underway to deal with any BP shortcuts and shortcomings in this matter.  This is a time for triage and emergency response not campaign speeches and pushing a self-serving political agenda.

Let’s hope the President and his team don’t make a bad situation worse  by compounding BP’s mismanagement with their own.

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