(BP oil spill poll story, updated for yacht race, Markey release of BP document)
NEW YORK (
) -- The metaphorical buck stopped in Washington last week in its ongoing search for "ass to kick" as a result of the BP oil spill. The buck didn't stop in Washington to settle on the desk of President Obama -- though Obama has repeatedly said he has a place carved out on his Oval Office desk for the BP buck. Rather, oil-spill villain BP and the federal government decided to spend some quality time together for a few days, making the buck's search for a place to stop easy.
First we had the Oval Office speech by President Obama on Tuesday night, followed by the closed-door meeting between the Obama administration and BP top brass on Wednesday leading to some hefty financial concessions from BP, and finally, the oil-spill action wrapped with the absurd comedy of BP CEO Tony Hayward testifying on Capitol Hill.
It's pretty obvious when the biggest moments of intensity in 7 hours of congressional testimony are a protester covered in oil being wrestled to the ground by Capitol Hill security and Rep. Joe Barton making the now infamous "shakedown" comment, that any public hope for substance in Hayward's comments about the substance spilling into the Gulf of Mexico -- close to 840,000 gallons alone during the hours of Hayward's evasions -- was wishful thinking.
Hayward made it clear that even if he is about to lose his job as BP CEO, the buck won't stop with him when it comes to unraveling the causes of the oil spill.
Over the weekend, it became clear that the buck might have to learn how to wear an ascot, v-neck cashmere sweater tossed over the shoulders, and loafers, and learn how to sail to catch Hayward. The BP CEO created one of his biggest public relations gaffes yet -- and that's saying something -- when he was spotted at a glitzy yacht race sponsored by JPMorgan Chase watching his luxury boat compete in sparking waters off the Isle of Wight.
The BP CEO's latest gaffe enraged the U.S., per usual, and in particular the residents of the Gulf coast, whose waters, lives, and economy are ruined as a result of the BP oil spill. It was just two days before Hayward was spotted in the the lap of luxury that the BP CEO, like an obedient legal lapdog, responded to any one among a number of technical questions from Congress -- questions the BP CEO knew full well the House subcommittee were preparing to ask him -- with, "I'm afraid I can't answer that question;" or "I'm not involved in the decision-making process;" and "It's too early to draw conclusions."
We did learn about a lot of jobs Hayward won't have if he is eventually, or immediately, fired by BP. During congressional questioning about allegedly risky decisions made by BP in well operations to save time and money, Hayward's most consistent reply was to round up all the jobs he is not qualified to perform.
"I'm not a drilling engineer;" "I'm not a cement engineer;" "I'm not a technically qualified engineer in these matters" -- and on the question of the controversial, massive oil plumes circulating beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, "I'm not an oceanographic scientist." The only thing that the BP CEO left out of the long list of jobs he isn't qualified to perform was "helpful, truthful witness."
If only a congressperson had thought to ask Hayward about yacht maintenance.
Hayward's yacht outing was not the only negative news for BP over the weekend. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) released an internal BP document showing an estimate that as much as 100,000 barrels of oil could be released from the well on a daily basis if the blowout preventer was not in place. While BP has no plans to remove the failed blowout preventer -- meaning the 100,000 barrel figure is a hypothetical non-issue for the moment -- it does call into question how BP could have ever maintained in the early days of the oil spill crisis that as little as 1,000 barrels of oil was escaping.
"It is clear that, from the beginning, BP has not been straightforward with the government or the American people about the true size of this spill. Now the families living and working in the Gulf are suffering from their incompetence," Markey said in a weekend statement.
Even for all the easy BP- and Hayward-bashing, the federal government's mistakes made in the oil spill do not go unnoticed. The President's speech from the Oval Office on Tuesday night was one of his more lackluster rhetorical efforts. On the key issue of comprehensive energy policy, Obama said he won't accept inaction, but as far as actually getting legislation passed, rattled off a bunch of ideas, evincing no preferences, and saying he would work with both sides of the aisles and consider all energy forms. The big tent approach has been known to generate as mixed results as BP's oil spill containment efforts. The big tent seems like the political version of the failed BP dome strategy.
President Obama's big win was the Wednesday meeting with BP. By most accounts, the White House had no legal trump card to force BP to suspend its dividend, and a questionable legal strategy to force BP to set up an escrow account for oil spill damage claims. Yet BP's chairman walked onto the White House lawn with a major mea culpa -- followed by the mea culpa of his misuse of the term "small people" -- and with BP shareholders $8 billion poorer, saying farewell to their dividend checks. It may have taken Obama pointing to Environmental Protection Agency director Lisa Jackson with her finger on a button that said "press to de-bar BP" for the White House to gain its big victory. We'll never know.
So Obama's team can say after this week, "Yes we can, force the British (and Swedish) lords of BP to be humble on our shores (after wreaking havoc off the shores). Yet President Obama's claim in his Oval Office speech that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had already been at work on an overhaul of the Minerals Management Service from the first day he was hired seemed like some convenient revisionist history, which will go unchallenged since no one bothered to study the Minerals Management Service (MMS) before the BP oil spill anyway. We didn't see any heads rolling at the MMS before the BP oil spill became a major political issue, for one thing.
The Minerals Management Service may be the most egregious example of the unacceptable status quo in the relationship between the government regulators and the oil and gas companies, but it's far from the only depressing example of a government as often at the pump with big oil as it is holding a gun to the oil and gas sector's head.
The depressing spectacle known as politics reached its nadir during BP CEO Hayward's testimony. Washington has always had K Street, and now it apparently has its "Shakedown Street" also.
As for Rep. Barton, who at first tried to shamefully apologize for his allegations that President Obama was running the equivalent of a criminal mafia family, by saying he was sorry if his comments were "misconstrued," the true shakedown is the fact that Barton was willing to make such embarrassing comments to protect his ongoing shakedown of the oil and gas lobby. Barton has received more money from the oil and gas lobby than any other Congressman since the 1990s, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2009, only one congressman on the House Energy and Commerce committee received more from the oil and gas lobby than Barton, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO.).
There might be a slight problem in the fact that the representatives Congress chooses to serve on its Oversight and Investigations Committee of House Energy are in the well-lined pocket of the oil and gas companies.
Should the federal government be reforming more than just the Minerals Management Service?
In the least, a sane person might decide there is as much wrong with the federal government's oversight of the energy sector, and its process of looking into disasters like the oil spill, as there is wrong with BP and its approach to drilling.
In fact, amid the media and politic circus of what is a human tragedy, economic disaster and environmental massacre, saner heads did prevail in a recent survey about where the well-traveled buck should finally stop when the BP oil spill receives final judgment.
We asked readers of
at the beginning of the week, as Sir BP made his way to Washington,
Where does the buck stop for you in the BP oil spill?
The majority opinion was that the buck should split itself in two in an unscientific version of shame-induced societal fission and take a place on the desks of both BP and the federal government. It wasn't 100% of survey takers who agreed with this sane position, but it was 38% of voters who said so, and they were the largest group to express their opinion in the BP oil spill buck poll.
Another 27% of survey respondents think that BP deserves the buck the most of all. It's a hard position with which to disagree, though given Hayward's evasive testimony, the British oil giant may have a blowout preventer that actually works and keeps them safe from the buck in the final explosion of definitive oil spill causes. In any event, the buck may not spend much, if any, time on the desk of BP CEO Tony Hayward, as the speculation over his firing reached fever-pitch on Friday. Firing might not be the ultimate buck, but the ultimate act of mercy for the
Most Hated Man in America
Roughly 19% of survey takers think President Obama should make good on his claims that the buck stops on his desk, saying the federal government deserves the biggest portion of oil spill blame. This poll finding is pretty consistent with all of the major polls run by Gallup and all the big news services: the federal government is still ahead of BP when it comes to the public interpretation of oil spill events, but the distance between the two has narrowed dangerously.
Finally, 16% of poll takers said that "out-of-control energy use of U.S. citizens" was the desk on which the buck should be squarely placed. It's nice to know that among the villainy of the oily ink squid BP, and the usual cynicism about federal government action, at least a fair share of the survey audience clings to hope of the buck stopping at the desk of each U.S. citizen (on which there is no doubt an energy-sapping flat screen and a computer never even set to sleep mode).
-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum in New York
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