It’s only right that BP bear the cleanup costs in the Gulf – but their cleanup responsibilities shouldn’t interfere with federal agencies doing their jobs. Two recent news accounts paint a disturbing picture of federal employees taking orders from the multinational corporation that’s turned an already hard-hit part of our coastline into a disaster zone.
McClatchy Newspapers’ Marisa Taylor and Renee Schoof report that BP has released little information about how much oil is gushing out of its damaged well, and it will not make public the results of air sampling for cleanup workers. As Elizabeth Grossman noted last week, both the oil and the chemical dispersants used in cleanup can present health hazards, so it’s important to conduct air sampling (as well as other measurements) and use the data to inform decisions about worker protections.
Taylor and Schoof report:
[BP] also hasn’t publicly released air sampling for oil spill workers although Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency in charge of monitoring compliance with worker safety regulations, is relying on the information and has urged it to do so.
“It is not ours to publish,” said Dean Wingo, OSHA’s assistant regional administrator who oversees Louisiana. “We are working with (BP) and encouraging them to post the data so that it is publicly available.”
So, the agency that’s supposed to be in charge of worker health and safety can only “encourage” BP to release data that has a direct bearing on the health of cleanup workers and volunteers. Why isn’t OSHA conducting air sampling itself? Or if they don’t want to do it, maybe the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health could.
Another troubling report comes from CBS News’ Kelly Cobiella, who went with a camera crew to shoot footage of an oil-coverage beach. “A boat of BP contractors with two Coast Guard officers on board told us to turn around under threat of arrest,” she says. The footage shows a man leaning out of the boat, saying, “This is BP’s rules, not ours.”
Cobiella says that Coast Guard officials are “looking into the incident,” and I hope they find that the officers on that boat were mistaken in suggesting that BP calls the shots about who can film in the area. But if the Coast Guard’s role is to enforce the rules that BP decides on, that’s a bad situation.
Taylor and Schoof explain that this disaster response isn’t following the usual playbook:
Unlike the response to other past national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina where the government was in charge, BP has been designated as the “responsible party” under federal law and is overseeing much of the response to the spill. The government is acting more as an adviser.
It doesn’t seem right that the “responsible party” status would confer so much authority on BP. When a mine disaster happens, the mine operator is the responsible party, but they have to get Mine Safety and Health Administration permission to do anything – even something like drilling a borehole to let toxic gases escape.
It seems that someone with a lot of authority must have decided that in addition to its financial responsibility, BP would get to be in charge in the Gulf. Did someone in the White House make this call? If so, it was the wrong one. Our federal agencies are the ones tasked by Congress to protect our health and environment. BP shouldn’t be doing their jobs.