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Daily View: Obama and the oil spill

Clare Spencer | 09:51 UK time, Friday, 28 May 2010

Commentators react to President Obama's management of BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

President ObamaThe former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W Bush Karl Rove argues in the Wall Street Journal that President Obama has been too slow to react:

"Since the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up on April 20, a lethargic Team Obama has delayed or blown off key decisions requested by state and local governments and left British Petroleum in charge of developing a plan to cap the massive leak. Now the slow-moving oil spill threatens Mr. Obama's reputation, along with 40% of America's sensitive wetlands. Critics include some of his most ardent cheerleaders, who understand that 38 days without an administration solution is unacceptable."

In the Huffington Post Dan Froomin is not convinced that President Obama is doing anything substantial:

"[T]here was very little there for those who are more concerned with what's actually happening on the ground and in the water than with presidential optics.
And to those unhappy with the speed or the extent of the government response, to those scientists who question some of the decisions that have been made, and to those Louisiana residents who think not enough is being done, he didn't actually announce any changes. There is no new plan. He just tried to redefine what is."

In the Washington Post EJ Dionne Jr says "The sludge in the gulf is, finally, the product of our own contradictions":

"So who is in charge of stopping the oil spill, BP or the federal government? The fact that the answer to this question seems as murky as the water around the exploded oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico suggests that this is an excellent moment to recognize that our arguments pitting capitalism against socialism and the government against the private sector muddle far more than they clarify."

David Scheffer says in the Financial Times [subsccription required] that there is a need for a rethink of regulation:

"BP has broken the mould of self-regulation. With all companies now operating in its shadow, we need tougher enforcement of CSR [corporate social responsibility]. Manipulation of objectives by PR departments has to stop. Congress should mandate that multinationals incorporated or operating in the US should create professionally staffed divisions to uphold Global Compact principles and core duties set forth in more enlightened codes of conduct. In a move beyond feelgood ethics and anaemic committees, compliance divisions should report directly to chief management and the board of directors, and periodically file public sustainability reports to regulatory bureaux in Washington ramped up for rigorous oversight.  

"Compliance divisions should act with independent authority (like police departments' internal affairs offices) to enforce CSR and compel planning for worst-case scenarios. Conventional risk assessment reports focus on what risks might impair investors' confidence in a company. Future ones should also examine the catastrophic risks that would undermine society's confidence."

In the Guardian John Vidal argues that the Gulf disaster is only unusual for being so near the US:

"If this accident had occurred in a developing country, say off the west coast of Africa or Indonesia, BP could probably have avoided all publicity and escaped starting a clean-up for many months. It would not have had to employ booms or dispersants, and it could have ignored the health effects on people and the damage done to fishing. It might have eventually been taken to court and could have been fined a few million dollars, but it would probably have appealed and delayed a court decision for a decade or more. 

"Big Oil is usually a poor country's most powerful industry, and is generally allowed to act like a parallel government. In many countries it simply pays off the judges, the community leaders, the lawmakers and the ministers, and it expects environmentalists and local people to be powerless. Mostly it gets away with it."

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