The oil leak spreading throughout the Gulf of Mexico, without any resolution clearly in sight, is an indication that the federal government should have responsibility for cleaning up messes like these. Why is it that, BP, a company that might have been negligent in the first place, is trusted to oversee the response to a disaster that is harming the public welfare?
While the government should clean up the problem, the oil company involved – or the industry as a whole – should pay the bill. Oil companies could be required to pay into a collective insurance pool as part of the price of drilling on U.S. territory. Or the U.S. could simply bill the oil company responsible for the leak. Perhaps this would give drillers an incentive to maximize the safeguards against leaks.
As it is, we’re dallying behind procedure while irreparable disaster spreads. Currently, it could be in BP’s financial interest to continue trying the easiest, least expensive potential fixes to the leak, even if this means that the leak will continue gushing for several months more. Why? Because the main financial threat is lawsuits, and those can take a unjustly long time to conclude, allowing BP to plan for them. And the example of the Exxon Valdez case suggests that, years from now when the litigation ends, plaintiffs might get very little money anyway.
Or perhaps politicians’ indignation and hand-wringing (aka hand-washing) is good enough?