BP should pay, baby, pay

Ron Hart Ron Hart is a libertarian humorist and author who can be reached at Ron@RonaldHart.com.
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BP disclosed yet another setback in its frantic attempts to control the oil spill that will go down in history as one of America’s worst environmental disasters. There has not been this much oil and slime spilled in a body of water since former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich went swimming in Lake Michigan.

So far, BP has tried to shoot golf balls into the leak and put a thimble-like lid on it. Now they are trying to put in a straw to suck up the oil. I am all for creative solutions to problems, but it seems that by now BP has purchased all the Acme Corporation mail-order devices available in this Wile E. Coyote-esque attempt to mitigate the mess.

What is apparent in all of this is that our government—you know, the one Obama says will protect us from everything except itself—has no clue what it is doing. He is implementing his campaign theme of “Government does not work, so we are going to give you more of it.”

One of the agencies that “regulates” the oil industry, the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service (which collects $10 billion in royalties annually), recently got in trouble for its cozy relationship—really more like spooning—with oil companies. It was an agency fraught with unethical behavior, office shenanigans, sex with subordinates, and marijuana and cocaine use. One report said it had “a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity.” On the bright side, employees were never late for work.

So the Obama administration regulates the oil industry on the “honor system,” the same way it handles illegal immigration and terrorism, so as not to insult anyone. Obama and Janet “Inspector Clouseau” Napolitano did next to nothing on the Gulf disaster for nine days. Then, acting on impulse, Obama sent lawyers. Remember when the liberal media said Bush was a dope for spending two minutes with the school kids he was visiting when he was informed of the 9/11 attacks?

After the Center for Biological Diversity (apparently not enough diversity in biology for these folks) said it intended to file a suit against the Interior Department, Obama ordered reviews. He turned his teleprompter setting to “indignant” and made a few speeches, it is what he does.

If we do not drill, Venezuela, Vietnam, Cuba or China will drill in the Gulf and expose us to even more risks. Our thirst for oil seems to have no end. If only we could fuel our cars on the hubris and broken promises of Washington politicians, we would not have to drill at all. Until those “green jobs” ride in on unicorns, we have to drill for oil—but safely.

There are 3,800 oil rigs in the Gulf, and they are an important part of many Southern communities. We have been drilling for oil this way since 1896, with very few oil leaks. But the BP disaster shows us how important it is that things go right.

So what should happen in this case?

BP should be held totally responsible and should pay for all damages caused by this mishap. Not only will that make whole those who have suffered, it will send a message to other would-be oil companies that might take shortcuts in their pursuit of profits. This is what the court system is for, determining damages for those truly hurt by the actions of others.

Nothing improves the viscosity of the legal system more than the smell of a big payday for lawyers. I just hope the shady plaintiffs’ attorneys do not take too much like they did with tobacco cases.

BP and other oil companies can buy off politicians and regulators, but they cannot pay off or buy the U.S. consumer and our justice system. For free markets to work, there have to be severe and consequential reactions to abhorrent behavior by any company. Because it has damaged the most beautiful beaches in the world and a delicate ecosystem, BP should pay up far beyond the actual damages.

BP made $6 billion in the first quarter of 2010. I suggest they not spend it any time soon, but instead prepare a check made out to the good people of the Gulf Coast. It is a really simple concept: if you break something because you made a major miscalculation, you pay big. That can be expensive; just ask George Bush about Iraq.

Ron Hart is a libertarian op-ed humorist whose new book, No Such Thing as a Pretty Good Alligator Wrestler, is available on Amazon.com or at www.RonaldHart.com.