There’s no question that the Obama Administration was slow to get on top of the BP Oil Disaster. But not because President Obama didn’t show enough emotion or anger—a lame line pushed by too many pundits—or because this crisis has hijacked his legislative agenda (which it hasn’t—yet).
Where Obama screwed up was in ceding the lead in the recovery effort to an oil company—a private corporation that was never going to see protecting the public interest as its top priority. That decision was a blown call akin to umpire Jim Joyce’s denying Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game in the final out of the ninth–only with far more severe consequences, obviously.
Indeed given BP’s ugly record of environmental, safety, and antitrust abuses, entrusting them with this cleanup was like outsourcing human rights policy to Dick Cheney. But the problem is greater than just BP, as Michael Klare writes in The Nation, it’s “a corporate culture that favors productivity and profit over safety and environmental protection.”
There are signs in these last few days that the Administration now gets it. President Obama seems to have a new sense of urgency—and action. There’s a movement to begin criminal and civil investigations. The President has started to make the case for a more active and less corrupt government, and ending tax breaks for oil and gas companies. (He should also end all Big Oil and Gas subsidies so that more governmental resources are available for R&D in renewable energy technologies.) His call to raise fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, and to work on higher standards for 2017, is a step toward ending our addiction to oil.
He also seems to better understand the bigger picture—that there was a systems breakdown that led to this disaster and now must be fixed. Regulations didn’t keep pace with the risks posed by deepwater drilling; and drilling technology outpaced advances in safety equipment (if it’s too deep to fix, it’s too deep to drill). Obama has the capacity to take on that corroded system. Breaking up Mineral Management Services into three parts is a start, but much more needs to be done if we’re to avoid these disasters in the future.