What if BP Doesn’t Follow Obama’s Administrative Orders? BP Doesn’t Know

 

At Monday’s White House briefing, Admiral Thad Allen was asked to describe the federal government’s role in the response to the BP Oil Spill. He told Jake Tapper that federal on-scene coordinators issue “administrative orders” that have the “effect of law.” I followed up by asking what penalties BP faces if they either don’t comply with an administrative order, or if they comply too slowly. Admiral Allen promised to get me the “specific cites,” but said he was “sure there are both civil and criminal penalties.” I followed up with the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center, and got an unbelievable response.

Some quick background, first. Over the weekend, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar angrily complained about BP’s performance to date, and promised that “If we find that they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we’ll push them out of the way appropriately…”

Early on in Monday’s briefing, however, Admiral Allen dispelled the notion that BP would be pushed out of the way in any sense, observing that “…to push BP out of the way would raise the question to replace them with what?”

Several reporters then tried to sort out exactly who is in charge of the response effort. You can read the whole transcript here, but as near as I can tell, the answer is that BP is in charge of the effort, and the government is overseeing them. It’s like hiring a contractor to build you a deck. You let them do their thing, but if you notice them having a kegger in the backyard, you say something.

In this case, there are signs of a lack of urgency from BP when it comes to responding to government oversight. Tapper brought up two examples in BP’s failure to comply with a directive about dispersants, and the 10 days it took them to make their live video feed public. Obviously, it’s important to know what penalties they face if they fail to comply, or comply too slowly.

Here’s the clip of Admiral Allen’s response:


After the briefing, I circled back with the White House press office, and they referred me to the Coast Guard. I contacted the Command Center, and explained that I was following up on Admiral Allen’s response. The staffer I spoke to didn’t know the answer, but said he would refer the question to the Admiral and his staff. The next day, I called to follow up again. Shortly thereafter, I got a call back from BP spokesman John Curry at the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center.

I asked him what the penalties are of BP fails to comply, or complies too slowly, with an administrative order form the federal government. He replied “I don’t know what those penalties are, but we will do whatever we can for the federal government, to give them what they want, when they want it.”

I was stunned. “You don’t know what the penalties are?”

“No, I do not. Our goal is to work with them to give them what they want. If they ask for something, I’m sure we will comply.”

I asked Curry if he maybe wanted to check on it before settling on a response. “No, we are in this to work with the government, to do everything we can to stop the flow of oil, to clean up that which has come ashore, and mitigate the impact…If there are any penalties related to our failure to comply, certainly we will pay those, but our primary approach is to do whatever the government wants.”

For good measure, I asked if he knew why it took BP 10 days to honor the government’s request to make public the live video feed of the leak. He responded, “No, I do not, I am unaware of that.”

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t penalties, or even that Admiral Allen doesn’t know them. I wouldn’t have really expected chapter and verse on the spot. But if there’s anyone who should know, who must know, it’s BP. If the government’s oversight of them is to have any teeth, BP needs to be well aware how sharp they are.

For example, on the issue of dispersants, the EPA issued a directive to BP to begin using a less toxic dispersant within 96 hours. The following day, BP responded by saying, basically, no. There are a few ways to read BP’s response, which asserts that the less toxic dispersant Sea Brat #4 (paging Lou Bega) might, maybe, possibly, have an unforeseen long-term effect, and they need to study the crap out of it before they’ll use it. The other dispersants would take a few weeks to produce in sufficient quantities.

I’m no scientist, so I can’t tell whether BP is just looking for a reason to stick with Correxit, which they have a whole boatload of, or if they’re suddenly ultra-concerned with the possible ripples of their actions. Either is possible, although the EPA called their response “insufficient,” and said that “BP seemed… more interested in defending their initial decisions than analyzing possible better options.”

 

I’m no legal scholar, but if they’re relying on the Clean Water Act, I’m not sure the EPA could prove that BP’s “insufficient” compliance was “knowing” or “negligent,” which is probably why, instead of imposing a penalty, they just said “F**k it, we’ll do our own tests.”

At any rate, there is so far nothing to indicate that BP has any reason not to employ delay tactics on any directive it doesn’t like, and the cumulative effect of this kind of soft defiance, while probably incalculable, is not a good thing.

 

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