EPA Should Ban BP

As oil soaks the coast of Louisiana, the fingerpointing has begun.
Government officials, including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and BP,
executives are trading accusations. But the blame-sharing leads
nowhere. A front-page story in The New York Times
points to "the enduring laxity of federal regulation of offshore
operations." The current disaster "has shown the government to be
almost wholly at the mercy of BP . . . to stop the bleeding well."

Meanwhile, estimates of the size of the disaster keep getting worse.
From the 5,000 barrels a day BP claimed and the media widely reported
on the first day after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in
the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are now moving their estimates up to
25,000 to 80,000 barrels a day, with ten-mile-long plumes of oil
spreading deep in the Gulf waters. No one knows for sure how much oil
is pouring into the Gulf, but Carol Browner, assistant to the president
for energy and climate change, said on Good Morning America that there is no doubt it is the worst spill in American history.

Browner "also confirmed that the government is the one in charge,
issuing orders to BP with regards to the clean-up," says George
Stephanopoulus. But that line is looking pretty thin given not only the
government's reliance on BP for technology and equipment to try to stop
the leak, but also the history of cravenness by the company and
ineffectual enforcement by the feds.

For many years, BP has been breaking the law, cutting corners on
safety, causing massive environmental damage, and getting away with it.

Pro-Publica's Abrahm Lustgarten
has been reporting on BP wrongdoing for years, first for Fortune
Magazine and now for the nonprofit investigative reporting enterprise.
Lustgarten points out that the EPA could ban BP from receiving
government contracts or drilling in federally controlled oil fields,
through a process called "discretionary debarment."

"If this were imposed on BP, it would cancel not only the company's
contracts to sell fuel to the military but prohibit BP from leasing or
renewing drilling leases on federal land," Lustgarten writes. "In the
worst cast, it could also lead to the cancellation of BP's existing
federal leases, worth billions of dollars."

For years, the company has been in the EPA's debarment attorneys'
crosshairs, but the goverment has so far declined to act. The latest
disaster might finally change that.

"Days ago, in an unannounced move, the EPA suspended negotiations
with the petroleum giant over whether it would be barred from federal
contracts because of the environmental crimes it committed before the
spill in the Gulf of Mexico," Lustgarten reports.

Those crimes, which Lustgarten has written about extensively, include:

--a massive explosion in Texas in 2005 that killed 15 workers and
injured 170, in which the company pleaded guilty to felony charges and
was fined more than $50 million.

--a leak in Prudhoe Bay that caused 4,800 barrels of oil to leak in
Alaska due to what Congress found was company negligence, deliberately
ignoring warnings to check the pipeline, and cost-cutting that led to
safety violations.

--a case settled with the Justice Department for manipulating propane prices.

The cost-cutting measures and other wrongdoing appear to have
boosted profits for BP, and made it the most profitable oil company in
the world. They also may have led to the world's greatest environmental

As the government waits to see if BP's current desperate attempt to
"kill" the Deepwater well succeeds in stemming the tide of spilled oil,
it should take aggressive action against the company, depriving it of
the partnership status that allowed it to run its unsafe Deepwater
platform in the first place.

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