By Calvin Woodward, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — In assuring Americans that BP won't control the compensation fund for Gulf oil spill recovery, President Barack Obama failed to mention that the government won't control it, either.
That means it's anyone's guess whether the government can, in fact, make BP pay all costs related to the spill.
Obama aimed high in his prime-time Oval Office address Tuesday night — perhaps higher than the facts support and history teaches — as he vowed to restore livelihoods and nature from the still-unfolding calamity in the Gulf of Mexico.
A look at some of his statements and how they compare with those facts:
OBAMA: "We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused and we will do whatever's necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy. ... Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party."
THE FACTS: An independent arbiter is no more bound to the government's wishes than an oil company's. In that sense, there is no certainty BP will be forced to make the Gulf economy whole again or that taxpayers are off the hook for the myriad costs associated with the spill or cleanup. The government can certainly press for that, using legislative and legal tools. But there are no guarantees and the past is not reassuring.
It took 20 years to sort through liability after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, and in the end, punitive damages were slashed by the courts to about $500 million from $2.5 billion. Many people who had lost their livelihoods in the spill died without ever seeing a check.