When allocating blame for the crisis in the Gulf, BP executives aren't the only ones with oil on their hands. The British petroleum giant should be held legally liable for damage caused by the oil leak, but only for costs related to its portion of the responsibility. At every step, government has hampered cleanup efforts, thereby exacerbating the problem. That's not BP's fault.
Letting skimmers in early would have cleaned up much of the oil in Gulf waters at a relatively low cost before it fouled sensitive coastal marshes. BP isn't accountable for additional cleanup costs and damages that resulted from government's failure to give a green light to this process. In this dim light, it's obvious why the Obama administration put the thumbscrews to BP executives to get them to agree to a cleanup fund managed by the White House: Government's share of the blame is substantial, and waiting for courts to allocate objective damages - which would be the normal way of proceeding - risked exposing bureaucratic culpability.
Delays and obstructions caused by the federal government are numerous. Countries such as Sweden and the United Arab Emirates offered skimmers in April, well before oil slicks hit coastal areas. Months later, they are still waiting for Washington's approval. When Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal set up 16 barges to vacuum oil from his state's waterways last week, the Coast Guard ordered them to stop while bureaucrats checked to make sure the machinery was made in the USA. Mr. Jindal also had to wait for weeks while the federal bureaucracy took its time deciding whether barrier islands could be built off the coast to stop oil from drifting into marshes. Meanwhile, tar balls floated ashore.
The politics of protecting unions and forbidding use of foreign-built skimmers might make sense for President Obama, who's in the pocket of labor unions, but the high price tag of that political decision shouldn't be carried by BP. No doubt, forcing private business to cover the costs of Mr. Obama's delays undermines any urgency the president may have had to act expeditiously.
The simple principle is that those who made bad decisions should be be held responsible for their actions. BP isn't the only party to blame for the ruination of the environment off the Gulf. There's always a price when government plays politics. BP - no matter how justifiably angry we are at the company - shouldn't have to pay for O Force dithering.
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