Suggesting CEO Tony Hayward be fired or demanding the company create a multibillion damage dollar fund, without specifying in detail how it would work, only distracts BP from doing what it has already pledged to do—clean up the mess and leave whole those who have been harmed.
By feeding public distemper, the President risks encouraging boycotts of BP by consumers and bond investors, outsized tort claims and the specter of excessive punitive awards. Together, those could destroy BP’s ability to raise cash and leave small businesses and ordinary citizens without the compensation they are due.
The lawyers might get rich but the victims would be shortchanged.
Apparently, BP failed to deploy all the technical precautions available in developing the Deepwater Horizon well, and supervisory pressures on platform engineers and workers caused them to ignore risks that resulted in the explosion. Some within BP may be guilty of criminal negligence.
Quietly, determining what should have been done and wasn’t, and prosecuting malefactors, would best serve the public interest. But bankrupting the company will only penalize millions of stockholders—popular villains, perhaps, but in fact often ordinary folk with investments in pension funds and retirement accounts and little culpability in the disaster.
The President’s blanket moratorium on new offshore drilling is terrible public policy. One way or another the oil Americans need will be produced—if not in U.S. territory then off the coast of Africa or some other hostile place. The environmental and security risks will only be multiplied by going to even riskier locations.
U.S. consumers will pay more for imported oil and further harm to oceans will be more likely. That simply does not serve the public interest.