Sunday, May 30, 2010

No good news. What Obama should do.

Although the vacation was enjoyable and needed, the news from the Gulf haunted me in the Maine countryside and things have gotten worse. In spite of my general cynicism about the competency of large corporations, I had somehow hoped that at least the engineers at BP had an effective plan up their sleeves to stop the horrible oil leak.

But no: The company has no real experience or practice in dealing with this kind of problem. They simply assumed that such an explosion and leak would either never happen, or that the containment apparatus would deal with it effectively. In fact, they had never tested the device at these depths, and had never practiced dealing with such an emergency. This did not prevent them from telling regulators that they were prepared for everything. The regulators, long-time enablers of corporate mal- and non-feasance, did nothing regulatory -- either under Bush or under Obama. Of course, it's not just Big Oil. No Big-anything gets regulated these days, from Big Banks to Big Pharma to Big Salt.

Just a few months ago the President was telling us how smart the execs from Goldman-Sachs were. Then he told us that we needed more drilling for oil. No mention of regulation from either him or Ken Salazar.

Obama is in a slightly ticklish situation. If he lets BP continue to have exclusive rights to dealing with the leak, then he gets criticized for kowtowing to the company nearly universally held responsible for the leak. On the other hand, if he takes over and "nationalizes" the site, then he owns the problem and has to come up with a solution. Still, this is the kind of situation in which a real leader has to make a decision and actually lead. As we've seen, sometimes Obama has to be given a kick in the pants to do this. It's an ugly situation but he's in it and he has to fish or cut bait.

The President should declare this a national emergency and summon experts , academic and industrial, from around the country -- hydraulic engineers, ocean scientists etc. -- to meet in Louisiana to brainstorm a solution. We need people with technical savvy -- and specifically, not executives -- to come up with a way to plug this leak without waiting for August when BP will drill a "side" well to relieve the pressure on this broken one and, of course, preserve their oil. BP should forfeit any rights to this oil and to the site itself.

Finally, Ken Salazar should resign and the President should replace him with someone more committed to strong regulation, and someone with absolutely no ties to Big Oil or Agribusiness.

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