BP Holds Gulf Spill Assessment 'Financially Captive'

BP has been able to delay and deny efforts to assess the damage caused by its 2010 oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico because it controls the funding for those efforts, a Louisiana state official told senators today.
"The current statutory and regulatory structure allows the responsible parties to dictate conditions based upon the fact that they are funding the activity," said Garrett Graves, chairman of Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in testimony this morning before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife.
"In the case of ongoing oil spill response activities, this has evolved even farther," Graves said. "It is a modern- day case of Stockholm Syndrome whereby responders are dependent upon the financial resources of and have repeatedly shown signs of empathy toward the responsible parties — who hold them financially captive to the detriment of the will and best interests of the public."
There are two responsible parties in the Gulf oil disaster: BP and Transocean Ltd., which owned the Deepwater Horizon rig. Those parties disagree about the level of responsibility they share, but the senate hearing focused on the bigger fish: BP.
Graves gave senators several examples of problems that have resulted from BP's control of funding:
BP has pushed to leave thousands of anchors, used during the initial spill response to secure booms, in the Gulf "where they may pose a threat to the environment, commercial and recreational fishing equipment and boating safety."
BP has also pressed "to prematurely designate oiled areas as 'No Further Treatment' or set inappropriate endpoints for responses.
The Natural Resource Damage Assessment is funded under an informal cooperative agreement between BP and the natural resource trustees, namely: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Because it controls funding, BP signs off on assessment activities before they can begin.
For this reason, BP can delay the review and approval of work plans and threaten the timely collection of timely data.
BP can refuse to concur in assessments that are contrary to its legal interests.
Graves commended BP for providing $1 billion in initial funding for damage assessment and restoration—more than $900 million of which has been spent—but he also charged that BP has hired "armies of attorneys, marketing firms, PR campaigns, lobbyists, scientists and other consultants" that the state and federal governments must compete against. Many attorneys, scientists, and consultants who have worked for BP in the past have been silenced by contracts they signed.
Graves criticized sympathies that have developed between BP and government officials.
'I think the process has an inherent conflict because of the funding source and the desire, quite frankly, to be cooperative with the responsible parties," Graves said. "You want to be independent enough to do what you think needs to be done."
Graves asked senators to pass legislation that would give control of funding to the public.
"I think that equation tneeds to be flipped over. I think the public needs to be in the driver's seat. By being able to control the checkbook, you can control what's in these workplaces, how the assessments are conducted, the timelines of the assessments."
Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told senators they have documented that natural resources were exposed to hazards from the oil spill and they are beginning to enter the phase of assessing the amount of damage. Most remediation efforts will take place after that process is complete, but some early remediation efforts are scheduled to begin later this year.
"What other situation do you have," Graves asked, "where the defense is allowed to reign in the plaintiffs through exercise or governance of the funding?"
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