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Where’s the Accountability in the Department of Interior?

7:19 pm in BP oil disaster, Energy, Government by fflambeau

Not long ago, President Obama demanded accountability from a Rhode Island school district and pretty much endorsed the firing of the whole teaching staff of a school. Why not apply the same standards at the Department of the Interior? Why is accountability good for teachers but not for federal agencies, especially ones overseeing the lucrative oil industry?

If you have forgotten Obama and Arnie Duncan’s call for the scalp of the entire teaching staff at a Rhode Island school, here’s Eric Tucker of the AP to refresh memories:

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — The mass firings of teachers at a struggling high school here have been a flashpoint in the national debate over education reform, with President Barack Obama weighing in and endorsing the move as an example of holding failing schools accountable.

The firings caught the attention of Obama, who during an education address in March singled out the move as an example of accountability.

"So if a school is struggling, we have to work with the principal and the teachers to find a solution," Obama said. "We’ve got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements. But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show any sign of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability."

Let’s flash forward now and see if Obama has held his own Department of the Interior to his high standards of accountability, with respect to teachers that is.

Recall that Obama himself selected Ken Salazar to be his cabinet head overseeing the environment and that when that choice was made, it was widely criticized by environmentalists who noted Salazar’s pro big business attitude and his endorsement of offshore drilling. Under Salazar, as been repeatedly documented in the media, the Obama Interior Ministry gave hundreds of waivers to oil companies so they would not have to file troublesome environmental impact statements. These waivers were given to companies, like BP, that had major safety violations in the not too far past.

Obama himself on April 2, 2010 assured the nation that oil rigs are safe and that oil leaks occur from refineries, not rigs.

From Democracynow’s report of April 4, 2010:

Obama on April 2: “Oil Rigs Today Generally Don’t Cause Spills”

In the weeks leading up to the oil rig explosion, President Obama claimed that the offshore rigs are safe.

President Obama: "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore."

President Obama speaking on April 2, 18 days before the BP rig exploded. Meanwhile the Huffington Post reports National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration officials warned the Department of Interior last fall that it was dramatically underestimating the frequency of offshore oil spills and was dangerously understating the risk and impacts a major spill would have on coastal residents.

Obama made that completely false and inaccurate statement on the occasion of overturning 27 years of government policy banning offshore drilling. The ban was enforced by Democratic and Republican administration alike. Just 18 days after Obama’s volte face (he had, of course, campaigned against offshore drilling before backing it), we all know what happened.

Now we learn that more than three weeks after the oil disaster began, the Associate Director of Offshore Energy and Minerals Management at the Minerals Management Service within Salazar’s Department of the Interior within the Obama Administration, will retire May 31st. So unlike the teachers, this incompetent gets to retire (and likely retain all of his benefits) on his own schedule and hand out yet more rubber stamp waivers for two more weeks or so.

The above was reported recently by the Huffingtonpost along with this tidbit:

During his tenure at the Gulf regional office in Louisiana for the MMS, Chris Oynes played a central role in an offshore leasing foul-up that cost taxpayers an estimated $10 billion in lost revenue. The Interior Department’s inspector general called the matter "a jaw-dropping example of bureaucratic bungling." Despite that, the agency’s then-director promoted Mr. Oynes in 2007 to associate director for the offshore program.

One can understand this under W. But Obama has been in charge for 16 months now and if he can demand the firing of teachers for not coming through on the job, how about firing the entire staff of MMS AND his Secretary of the Interior too?

Why is it that accountability in the Obama administration seems to apply only to hapless teachers? Not to banking regulators, not to failed economic advisers, not to oil regulators, and not to people who have performed criminal/anti-human rights acts under both the Bush and Obama administrations?

Accountability Mr. President begins with you. One suspects the voters in November are going to hold your administration accountable too!

Has Obama Brought Chicago-Style Pay to Play to Washington, D.C.?

9:51 pm in Uncategorized by fflambeau

This diary asks the question: has Barack "Offshore" Obama brought Chicago style pay-to-play to Washington, D.C.?

First off, what’s meant by pay to play? In politics, pay to play refers to:

…a system, akin to payola in the music industry, by which one pays (or must pay) money to become a player.

Typically, the payer (an individual, business, or organization) makes campaign contributions to public officials, party officials, or parties themselves, and receives political or pecuniary benefit such as no-bid government contracts, influence over legislation, political appointments or nominations, special access or other favors. The contributions, less frequently, may be to nonprofit or institutional entities, or may take the form of some benefit to a third party, such as a family member of a governmental official.

The phrase, almost always used in criticism, also refers to the increasing cost of elections and the "price of admission" to even run and the concern "that one candidate can far outspend his opponents, essentially buying the election."

While the direct exchange of campaign contributions for contracts is the most visible form of Pay to Play, the greater concern is the central role of money in politics, and its skewing both the composition and the policies of government.

…Incumbent candidates and their political organizations are typically the greatest beneficiaries of Pay-to-Play. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have been criticized for the practice. Many seeking to ban or restrict the practice characterize pay-to-play as legalized corruption.

The city of Chicago and the State of Illinois have a long history of corrupt politics and pay to play. Former Governor Rod Blagojevich, of course, has been indicted and will soon face trial on what are essentially pay to play charges. But Blago wasn’t the first corrupt politician coming from Chicago nor will he be the last. One of Blago’s predecessor was the Republican George Ryan. Ryan was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison on federal corruption charges just a few years before Blago.

Robert Grant, the FBI agent in charge of the agency’s Chicago office, has described the Chicago/Illinois special place in the pantheon of political corruption (source same as above):

"If it isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s certainly one hell of a competitor," Grant said. And Fitzgerald, whose office also prosecuted Blagojevich’s predecessor, said Blagojevich’s "conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave."

It’s been that way a long time for lots of reasons. Mob connections, a rapidly developing urban atmosphere where lots of money can be made quickly, a history of disinterested citizenry–all have combined to create this cesspool of corruption and pay to play.

The face for Chicago politics has long been Richard J. Daley who served as mayor for 21 years until his death in 1976. Columnist and writer Mike Ryoko forever captured the picture of Daley in his wonderful book, Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago (1971). Boss shows Daley as corrupt, racist, cruel, mean and brutal. I still remember video footage of Daley shouting "Kike" and "Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch" to Sen. Abraham Ribicoff at the 1968 Democratic National Convention as Ribicoff called out the brutal treatment of the city’s police toward antiwar demonstrators.

If you imagine Orson Welles, who played brilliantly the corrupt policeman in "Touch of Evil" on a larger scale, that would be Daley. Welles in that movie (one of his best performances) even looks like Daley.

Wikipedia describes how Daley’s system worked:

Daley’s chief means of attaining electoral success was his reliance on local precinct captains, who marshaled and delivered votes on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. Many of these precinct captains held patronage jobs with the city, mostly minor posts at low pay. Each ward had a ward leader in charge of the precinct captains, some of whom were corrupt. The notorious First Ward (encompassing downtown, which had many businesses but few residents) was tied to the local mafia or crime syndicate…

Among other things, Daley has been accused of rigging the vote in Chicago to elect JFK. Illinois Racing Board Chairman William S. Miller testified in 1973 that Daley had "induced" him to bribe Illinois Governor Otto Kerner. These accusations followed Daley to his grave. Kerner is another name high in the corruption pantheon. Wikipedia says it best:

Otto Kerner, Jr. (August 15, 1908 – May 9, 1976) was the 33rd Governor of Illinois from 1961 to 1968. He is best known for chairing the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Commission) and for accepting bribes.

(emphasis added)

Accepting bribes and kickbacks, forcing people and businesses to make "contributions" so that they could get preferential treatment or even needed services like fire and police protection (Royko’s book is great on this and highly recommended), that’s the Chicago pay to play system.

This is the political system that Barack Obama and his wife grew up in or were molded in. Indeed, Michelle’s daddy was a Democratic precinct captain under Boss Daley, and of course, he also had a nice city job as water plant employee. The Boss always took care of his people. Meanwhile, if you Google both Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, and Rod Blago, you’ll find pictures of the three of them looking very chummy and patting each other on the back.

Let’s return to the main question that this diary poses: Has Barack Obama brought Chicago pay to play to Washington, D.C.?

In two specific instances, I believe that one can see at least the lineaments of this happening: 1) Obama’s relationship with Goldman Sachs and 2) his administration’s cozy treatment of BP.

Let’s look at Goldman Sachs first. Most people know that Goldman Sachs was the major contributor (aside from the U. of California SYSTEM (meaning a dozen or so campuses) to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. But they were also the main contributor to his Senatorial campaign. And as early as 2006, Robert Rubin (former head of Goldman and of Citibank) invited a Senator to the Rubin-Goldman funded Hamilton Project. At the Hamilton Project (remember Hamilton: "The People are a Great Beast") then Senator, Obama, paid lavish tribute to "my friend, Bob [Rubin] and went on to talk about the need to cut entitlements (meaning Social Security) and the need for more NAFTA-like agreements (making his statements in 2008 that he would reform NAFTA to be complete lies). A video clip of Obama’s neoliberal speech is available here. See also another informative diary by Dr. Kirk Murphy, M.D. and an article entitled "Wall St. Democrats Unveil Plan to Undermine Progressives" by David Sirota.

Recall that our definition of pay to play above indicates money given in exchange for political appointments. Certainly that has been borne out in the case of Obama and Goldman Sachs since his administration is riddled with Goldies. See this diary entitled "A list of Goldman Sachs People In the Obama Administration: Names Attached to the Giant Squid’s Tentacles". His two chief economic advisers, Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers have Goldman-Rubin connections and so do Geithner’s top aides like Mark Patterson.

Then there are top policy people whom you may not have heard about but who hold key positions in the Obama Administration. Like: Lael Brainard, Thomas Donilon, Bill Dudley, Douglas Elmendorf, Diana Farrell, Stephen Friedman, Michael Frohman, Jason Furman,
Anne Fudge, Mark Gallogly, Gary Gensler, Michael Greenstone (revolving door), Robert Hormats, Neel Kashkari, Karen Kornblum, Jacob J. Lew, David A. Lipton, Peter Orszag, Robert D. Reischauer, and Alice Rivlin. For a detailed look at the appointments-connections between Goldman Sachs-Rubin-and their affiliated groups like the Hamilton Project, please see this diary. Matt Taibbi was exactly correct with his image of the giant squid and its tentacles sinking into the Obama administration.

Pay to play, as we see above, means appointees and Goldman has not lacked them in the Obama administration. See also the article by Greg Gordon (McClatchy)"Goldman’s White House Connections Raise Eyebrows". This diary is also helpful. See also, "Obama Packs Debt Commission with Social Security Looters".

Pay to pay can also mean influence used to favor contributors. Recall how differently Obama’s Tim Geithner and the Obama administration treated Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers, one of Goldman’s main competitors? Goldman Sachs feasted from the Obama-Geithner bailouts; Lehman was left to starve and withered away.

Here’s how the Wall St. Journal described the situation on July 15, 2009:

Wall Street’s meltdown fueled the most profitable quarter ever at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which snatched business away from weakened rivals and churned out huge trading gains by revving up risk taking.

With competitors such as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Bear Stearns Cos. gone, and others like Citigroup Inc. flailing, Goldman appears to be pulling off one of the biggest market-share grabs in Wall Street history.

Net income in the second quarter was $3.44 billion, or $4.93 a share — more than Goldman earned in all of 2008, when it was hammered by the financial crisis. Analysts had expected strong earnings, but were surprised by how much the firm exceeded expectations.

The primary earnings driver was wider profit margins on the buying and selling of securities, in part due to fewer competitors.

Goldman’s resurgence, including a 33% jump in money set aside for compensation and benefits in the year’s first half, could invite criticism that it is benefiting too much from the government’s Wall Street rescue.


They also underscore the emergence of a handful of large U.S. financial institutions that are likely to profit mightily from the wreckage left by the financial crisis.

…Goldman’s stock-trading division posted net revenue of $3.2 billion for the quarter, up 59% from the first quarter, and 28% from the quarter ended May 30, 2008.

Goldman also picked up some business from clients that had used competitors in the past. U.S. Bancorp tapped Goldman Sachs as one of its lead underwriters on a stock offering in May, the first time it had used Goldman in that role in more than five years, Dealogic data showed.

The banking firm had used Citigroup and Lehman Brothers, among others, on similar deals.

(emphasis added)

Coincidence? The economic crisis actually helped Goldman Sachs get huge bailouts and squeezed out two of its main competitors? Coincidence that this happened after Goldman Sachs gave so much to Obama and has so many people affiliated with it acting in the Obama administration. Mere coincidence?

A fine interview between Bill Moyers and law Professor William Black over at PBS highlights some of the problems that the Obama administration seems unable and unwilling to come to grips with relating to the financial/economic crisis:

BILL MOYERS: Well, Bill, where are the other investigations? Why have there been no arrests? Why have there been no convictions?

WILLIAM K. BLACK Because we have still Bush’s wrecking crew in charge of the key regulatory agencies. Why are they still in place? They have abysmal records as major causes of this crisis.

BILL MOYERS: You talk about the Bush appointees still being there, but Goldman’s former lobbyist, his treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner’s chief of staff, the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Gary Gensler, who may soon have new power over derivatives, worked for Goldman.

So did the deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, the under Secretary of State is a former Goldman employee. Goldman’s hired Barack Obama’s recent chief counsel from the White House on his defense team. I mean–

WILLIAM K. BLACK Don’t forget Rubin.

BILL MOYERS: Robert Rubin, whose influence is all over the place, who used to be–

WILLIAM K. BLACK It’s his protégés that are in charge of economic policy, under Obama.

BILL MOYERS: So is this administration, which still has some Bush holdovers in it, and now has a lot of Goldman people in it, is this administration going to be able to pass judgment on Goldman Sachs?

WILLIAM K. BLACK Well, so far, they haven’t been able to do it. They can’t even get themselves to use the word fraud.

There’s a huge part that is economic ideology. And neoclassical economists don’t believe that fraud can exist.

Coincidence that not a single person involved in this economic crisis (aside from garden variety criminals like Bernie Madoff) has been sent to jail? Contrast that with the more than 1,000 people who did jail time in the savings and loan crisis (a far smaller crisis) in the 1980′s. Coincidence that Barack Obama’s selection as Attorney General, Eric Holder, is best known for crafting the pardons to fugitive multimillionaire Marc Rich? Coincidence that the DOJ has been sitting on its hands and has no white collar prosecutions up and running on this? That’s an awful lot of coincidences to believe in.

Now let’s turn to BP. Like Goldman Sachs, BP pumped lots of money into the Obama campaign and administration. Indeed, BP gave more to Obama in 2008 than any other candidate and he heads their list of political contributions for the past 20 years. BP flushed even more money to Obama and his party through the Podesta Group, a lobbying/consulting group whose founders have close ties to the President. BP gave the Podesta Group $320,000 in 2008, $320,000 in 2009, and thusfar this year $80,000 as reported by Opensecrets. See also this. One suspects this is but the tip of the iceberg as there are plenty of other groups/individuals to send money through.

Now some here might believe that this is not really a problem since a) Obama also took in lots of money from small contributors and b) it’s only natural since Obama led all candidates in raising money. But not so. Virtually none of those small time contributors wanted to advance their specific business goals, or sought appointments, or wanted to buy influence. It’s a different story with major corporations and businesses as both Republican Senator McCain and Democratic Senator Russ Feingold know. They attempted to do something about the pervasive and harmful influence of political contributions: for this very reason. As to argument b) it is of note that BP has traditionally given to Republicans but they changed that pattern with Obama and made the Democrat their favorite. William Black, the law professor and former senior regulator for the Federal Home Loan Board who cracked down on banking during the Savings & Loan crisis of the 1980′s, made this wise observation that should be kept in mind:

"The highest return on assets" he told Bill Moyers on PBS, "is always a political contribution."

What is troubling about the news surrounding the BP blow out is how the Obama administration and especially Obama’s hand-picked man to head Interior, Ken Salazar has treated BP with kid gloves. The Washington Post has reported that the Obama administration waived environmental impact requirements for BP for its Gulf coast drilling:

The Interior Department exempted BP’s calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis last year, according to government documents, after three reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely.

The decision by the department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) to give BP’s lease at Deepwater Horizon a "categorical exclusion" from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 — and BP’s lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions — show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the gulf.

In one assessment, the agency estimated that "a large oil spill" from a platform would not exceed a total of 1,500 barrels and that a "deepwater spill," occurring "offshore of the inner Continental shelf," would not reach the coast. In another assessment, it defined the most likely large spill as totaling 4,600 barrels and forecast that it would largely dissipate within 10 days and would be unlikely to make landfall.

"They never did an analysis that took into account what turns out to be the very real possibility of a serious spill," said Holly Doremus, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley who has reviewed the documents.

Democracynow reports that the agency within the Obama administrative charged with oversight is little more than a rubber stamp:

Newly-released documents meanwhile show government regulators exempted BP from a comprehensive environmental review of the project that resulted in the spill. The Minerals Management Service granted BP a “categorical exclusion” from a full review before approving the project just over a year ago. In a statement, the Center for Biological Diversity said: “Instead of protecting the public interest by conducting environmental reviews, [the MMS] rubber-stamped BP’s drilling plan, just as it does hundreds of others every year in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Dan Froomkin, in an excellent article over at Huffington Post notes that the Obama administration didn’t listen to warnings from NOAA (the scientific body in charge of overseeing oil drilling) about the dangers of off shore drilling:

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration officials last fall warned the Department of Interior, which regulates offshore oil drilling, that it was dramatically underestimating the frequency of offshore oil spills and was dangerously understating the risk and impacts a major spill would have on coastal residents.

NOAA is the nation’s lead ocean resource agency, and the warnings came in its response to a draft of the Obama Administration’s offshore oil drilling plans. The comments were Web-published in October by the whistle-blowing group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

But NOAA’s views were largely brushed aside as Obama went ahead and announced on March 31 that he would open vast swaths of American coastal waters to offshore drilling… .

Froomkin further points out that Obama has failed to replace most of the Bushies in Interior who have been soft on regulations of the oil industry:

Jeff Ruch, the head of the public-employee whistleblowing group, said that as in many other regulatory agencies, Obama political appointees in the Interior Department’s notoriously troubled Minerals Management Service (MMS) have not taken enough steps to reverse the anti-environmental and anti-science policies of the Bush years.

"For the most part, the Obama team is still the Bush team," Ruch told HuffPost, noting that beyond a thin layer of political appointees, offices like MMS are run by managers who were "promoted during the Bush years — In many instances, promoted for basically violating the law. And from what we can tell, their conduct hasn’t changed."

Futhermore, Ruch said, Obama "sees environmental issues as a political bargaining chip."

Obama made the boneheaded statement on April 2, 2010 that modern technology made off shore drilling safe. A video clip of him saying that is widespread on the internet and was shown recently on Jon Stewart’s show. The oil spill began just 18 days later.

Obama on April 2nd reversed 27 years of policy on oil drilling, banned by former President Ronald Reagan,and permitted off shore drilling. Essentially, Obama flip flopped on prior promises and adopted Sarah Palin’s silly “Drill, Baby, Drill” position. His oil policy is worse than Reagan’s!

EVEN AFTER the oil spill, Obama has not said unequivocally that off shore drilling will be banned by him. Instead, he’s imposed a moratorium (for 30 days or so) so his administration “can study the problem”.

So we have seen kid glove treatment and a volte face on both campaign promises relating to off shore drilling and a reversal of 27 years of government policy forbidding it. We’ve also seen Obama make some misleading and un-lawyerlike comments (yet again) to the effect that BP will pick up the entire tab for the oil spill when that is far from certain and history proves otherwise (like in the Exxon Valdez case). See also this diary on these questions.

Coincidence?

I’m not in favor of witch hunts but I do see developing some troubling problems relating to the Obama administration with respect to its cozy relationship with big banks like Goldman Sachs and big oil companies like BP. Why so many people with Goldman connections in this administration? Why differential treatment? Why go soft on regulations in an inherently dangerous business like drilling oil in ocean waters that are more than a thousand feet deep? For that matter, one could also cite the cozy relationship Obama has with Big Pharma and the insurance industries and how he broke his pledge to hold open, public meetings on health care reform and televise them. The Obama administration even denied the meetings had gone on until the New York Times broke that story open published names and details of the meetings.

So, why the lack of openness and transparency from this administration which promised both? Why the unwillingness to enforce laws and regulations? Why the kid’ s glove approach to huge banks, oil companies and huge corporate interests in general? Why the "let’s look forward but not backward" mantra which is the antithesis, after all, of legal education and doctrine as enshrined in the notion of legal precedent?

We don’t need or want a witch hunt. But we need to ask questions. We as a society need to investigate and if necessary prosecute wrongdoing and pay to play just as has been done against Blago and other crooks. We as Democrats also have to ask the same tough questions and apply the same standards that we applied to Bush and his administration to the Democratic Obama administration. Republicans, Democrats and Independents should be looked at and judged equally.

In short, we need Obama and his administration to start living up to its promises of fairness and openness and we citizens interested in good, clean government have to speak up more and demand more of our leaders.

Out Damned Oil Spot! How Obama has Failed America in the BP Oil Spill

8:11 pm in BP oil disaster, Energy by fflambeau

The largest environmental disaster in American history has occurred on President Obama’s watch. His policies have not only helped create the disaster but his administration’s response has been pathetic. He has, for instance, misled America on who will pay for the disaster and on the amount.

Let’s review some facts. The BP oil spill started on April 20, 2010. The Obama administration’s own time line on their response shows that Obama failed to hold a White House level conference with high administration officials until two days later. Obama himself seemed more concerned about crafting jokes for the White House Correspondent’s dinner than with the catastrophe. He was yucking it up with Jay Leno before he visited the Gulf community of Venice on Sunday, May 2 some 11 days after the spill started.

Contrast Obama’s 11 day time lag with Bush’s response to Katrina, maligned (rightly so) by Democrats. Hurricane Katrina hit on a Monday, Bush flew over the affected area a few days after, and visited the Gulf personally on Friday, September 2nd. So the dolt W. dithered for 4 days, Obama for 11! Congressman Harold Ford (remember him) criticized Bush for his ‘cavalier attitude’ because of a few days delay. What would Ford say about Obama’s eleven?

Obama and his administration, moreover, have been misleading the American people on who will pay for the disaster and how much they will pay. For days, the administration and the president’s mantra has been that BP will be on the hook for every penny of the cost:

“Let me be clear: BP is responsible for this leak; BP will be paying the bill,” President Barack Obama said Sunday as he made his first trip to the Gulf region to witness preparations for the oil spill looming off the Louisiana coast.

White House Press Secretary Gibbs similarly said on Monday afternoon that:

[BP] was “absolutely” on the hook for the cleanup as well as the financial injury to the seafood industry, and others who make their livelihoods in the gulf.

“If local fishermen can’t fish, that’s an economic loss that BP is going to have to pay,” Gibbs told reporters. “That’s part of the law, absolutely. The economic damages that are incurred are part of the cost of this incident, absolutely.”

(same source as above)

But lawyer Obama and his spokesman and entire administration appear to have been unaware of a federal law that caps such liability at $75 million for off-shore oil spills. The legislation involved is the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 passed after the Exxon Valdez disaster that this BP disaster likely will eclipse many times over (some estimates of the damage go to $7 billion).

While it is true that the legislation may not apply if BP was grossly negligent (a finding that will be hard to arrive at) or wasn’t abiding by federal rules at the time (and the Obama administration has made no such claim), it appears that taxpayers and consumers might be bailing out a major corporation yet again. On Obama’s watch.

Note too that BP has been hemming and hawing about what it will do (and not do) with respect to liability arising from the disaster. CBS reports that:

The company also says it will pay compensation for "legitimate and objectively verifiable" claims for property damage, personal injury, and commercial losses.

Perhaps even more shocking is the news, as reported by Democracynow, that BP–far from agreeing to pick up the entire tab for the damage it has done–is circulating papers in Alabama encouraging people to sign limitations of liability for the mere amount of $5,000. Here’s Amy Goodman’s interview with environmentalist Riki Ott who has published two books on oil spills:

AMY GOODMAN: Riki, I was looking at a paper in Alabama called The Press Register, and it has a piece with the headline, "BP Told to Stop Circulating Settlement Agreements with Coastal Alabamians.” And it says Alabama Attorney General Troy King said that he’s told representatives of BP they should stop circulating these settlement agreements. The agreements, King said, essentially require that people give-up the right to sue in exchange for payment of up to $5,000. Is this something that sounds familiar to you?

RIKI OTT: This whole oil spill or oil leak- I’m going to call it a leak because we do not know how much is going to spill. This is like deja vu. Exxon came to our community and similarly- all the other twenty-two oil communities in Alaska, with a similar paper asking people to waive their rights to sue. The judge upheld this. Anybody who signs that paper is giving away probably hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially. Potentially. As we know in Exxon Valdez, that our case got knocked way back down and people recovered about seven to ten percent of what they actually lost. So, absolutely do not sign that. I am planning on spending the next three weeks down in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast area. I hope to be meeting with ordinary people, circles of people, having peer listening circles. These were developed by Dr. Steve Picou, who’s in Mobile, Alabama and his colleague Dr. Dwayne Gill in conjunction with the people of Cordova and the Alaskan native community. And this was found to be the most beneficial to alleviate some of the stress from the spill, were these peer listening circles. It’s just people getting together and talking about their agony and talking about the fear and what are we going to do? What are we going to do? Don’t depend on BP to help you. Don’t depend on the federal government. Don’t give your power away to the state of Alaska. The people need to get together and figure out, what are we going to do to put our lives back together?

…But, the people should not count, even though the President is saying, “We will make sure BP pays,” BP is going to pay to the extent that it is made to pay by law. And these big corporations, they help write our laws and they help elect our Congress people that pass the laws. So, we’re kind of playing on a very stacked deck.

Anyone listening to BP officials, then, would have to scratch their heads at how Obama and his administration have come to the conclusion that BP will pay the entire tab. Obama seems unaware, moreover, of BP attempts to limit its liability in individual cases for the paltry sum of $5,000. BP has instead carefully avoided such talk about paying for everything and instead been hedging what they will do and pay for. BP will set up review mechanisms to determine what it will pay. As BP’s language indicates above, they are using lawyer-like language to indicate that there are definite limits to what they will pay.

But wasn’t Obama trained as a lawyer at Harvard? Wasn’t he editor of the law review there? It’s true that Obama was trained as a lawyer but he himself recently admitted he was unemployed after graduating from Harvard Law School for three months and then he took a low paying job in Chicago outside the law as a community organizer. Translation: no one wanted to hire him for his "legal expertise" and given his "let’s look forward not backward" mentality and his off target comments about BP’s financial exposure it’s easy to see why he ended up as a community organizer. Note too that Obama may be the first ever editor of the HLR who never wrote an article, a note or even a comment on the law. He has zero legal publications.

Non lawyer Tyson Slocum of the watchdog group Public Citizen is smart enough to note that :

“They’re [BP] going to try to limit their exposure on liability, but they’re not going to try to do that right now,”

So what is BP doing now? The answer is what just about every major corporation/bank does in Washington, D.C.: firing up their public relations team and their lobbying. Here’s the story:

But right now, BP’s team of more than 35 lobbyists is busy giving real-time updates to coastal state lawmakers, relevant congressional committees and the Obama administration as decision makers try to track the epic leak that is spilling 200,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf waters every day.

BP’s in-house lobbyists and consultants met on Monday to determine how best to continue answering the deluge of questions coming from government officials, lobbyists said.


BP officials have about a half dozen lobbying firms representing them, including Arnold & Porter and the Podesta and Duberstein groups. The company is a major political player having spent almost $16 million lobbying last year and $3.5 million lobbying this year before the spill. It also gave more than $500,000 last election cycle… .

What the Obama administration continues to do is talk tough and deal with the offending parties as usual. From The New York Times:

President Obama’s spokesman promised for a second day on Monday that the administration would “keep our boot on the throat of BP” to get the company to resolve the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, hours later, the president was hosting dinner at the White House with executives of the Business Council. Among the companies represented by the corporate club: BP.

Those kinds of cross currents have become a hallmark of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

…For all of Mr. Obama’s differences with business leaders, “they’ll tell you they’ve never had a better direct relationship with any president,” said Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.

(emphasis added)

Lastly, this disaster not only occurred on this president’s watch, it also largely occurred because Obama flip-flopped on campaign promises to stand against off-shore drilling. ABC noted in a story, "So Does Obama Still Drill, Baby, Drill" that the Obama White House:

…just one month ago announced an energy plan that would end the 20-year moratorium on drilling off the Atlantic coast…

Even more pointedly, here’s a review of what Obama said in 2008 (words and promises that he broke with his administration’s volte face policies):

Despite Obama’s campaign promise to keep the moratorium on offshore drilling, he has recently proposed to allow drilling along the Atlantic coast, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska [this article was written in April, 2010].

In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama critiqued McCain’s proposal to increase offshore drilling as a policy that would “have long term consequences for our coastlines but no short term benefits since it would take at least 10 years to get any oil.” He further stated that the proposal would “only worsen our addiction to oil and put off needed investments in clean, renewable energy.”

Nice words but almost 180 degrees off from what Obama really wanted and did. But that’s Obama. Or, should I say that’s President Obama who seems constantly at war with Presidential Candidate Obama. While his administration and he talk about "keeping the boot" on BP’s throat (the same sort of tough talk that Bush constantly used) what they have really done is to provide the legal and political framework for them to wreak havoc on the environment. Hugh, a frequent poster here at FDL, notes over at his excellent web site–"Obama’s Scandals List"–that Obama’s recklessness on drilling exceeds that of W’s:

On October 20, 2009, the Obama Administration gave conditional approval for Shell to drill in the Beaufort Sea off the north coast of Alaska from July-October 2010. This is a pro-drilling move that not even Bush was able to accomplish. Like most extreme environments, the Beaufort poses technical challenges to drilling and has a delicate ecosystem which drilling could do great harm to. As has already been seen at Prudhoe Bay, sloppiness and poor maintenance can result in a significant oil spill.

On March 31, 2010, the Obama Administration in an anti-environmental move of vast proportions opened up 167 million acres of the Atlantic coast from Delaware to mid-Florida for oil and gas exploration. Part of the eastern Gulf of Mexico and another 130 million acres off the North Coast of Alaska would also be opened up. Bristol Bay off Alaska’s west coast and the entire West Coast of the continental US would be put off limits for now. This looks like an adoption by Obama of yet another Republican party plank, that of "Drill, baby, drill." It will not be available for many years, will have little impact on prices or our dependence on foreign produced oil, and it flies in the face of what is needed to counter global warming. In typical Obama fashion it angers his base and gives Republicans almost everything they want without satisfying them or gaining their support.

In light of this, embarrassingly, on the evening of April 20, 2010, the oil rig Deepwater Horizon under contract to BP caught fire following an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico 52 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana killing eleven. The rig sank 36 hours later on April 22, 2010. Initial estimates put oil spilling from the rig’s well at 1,000 barrels/day. This was soon increased to 5,000 bbls/day. The well was leaking in at least 3 places and its shutoff valve wasn’t working. Halliburton was the contractor responsible for cementing the drill hole and had recognized difficulties with this operation in deep water. For its part, BP has a long and troubled history on safety issues and cutting corners, including a March 23, 2005 refinery fire in Texas City, Texas which killed 15 and a 200,000 gallon pipeline leak in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska discovered March 5, 2006 (mentioned above). It was also fined for violations relating to a near blowout on another oil rig the Ocean King in November 2002.

The spill which may not be stopped for weeks or months threatened significant environmental damage to wetlands and beaches from Louisiana to Florida. It also threatened the livelihoods of fishermen and those employed by the tourist industry in the region. The Obama Administration has said that BP is responsible for costs to clean up the spill but its liability with regard to the environment and those whom it has harmed may be limited.

On April 30, 2010, Obama tried to have it both ways, stopping new offshore drilling for now but not rescinding his recent plan to open up large stretches of water in the Gulf of Mexico and off the East Coast to oil exploration. In other words, the giveaway to the oil industry is still on. It has only been delayed until the public outcry and bad press have died down.

(emphasis added)

For the sake of clarity, it should be mentioned that the oil rig now leaking was part of the Tiber field that was drilled in 2009; in other words, while Obama was president. Please see comment #3 below by Librty for a link and more information. See also Seymour Friendly’s diary here months ago saying that Obama has given the oil companies whatever they want. The same diarist has many other fine diaries here on similar issues.

So, what’s really changed from W’s days? I guess Brownie is gone but that’s about it. Hugh nailed it, under Obama "the giveaway to the oil industry is still on."