New York Times Editorial: BP’s Responsibility
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: June 11, 2010
The Times reported on Friday that investors and politicians in Britain are increasingly upset at America’s criticisms of BP. This isn’t an issue of American pique or British patriotism. Americans are rightly angry at BP’s inability to stop a disastrous leak for which it was wholly unprepared and its failure to tell the truth about the extent of the damage.
United States government scientists did nothing to improve Americans’ mood this week when they doubled their estimate of the amount of oil flowing from BP’s out-of-control well in the Gulf of Mexico. The new range announced by a special panel is 25,000 to 30,000 barrels a day. At that rate, the amount of oil fouling the gulf is approaching one Exxon Valdez spill a week.
One can sympathize with people who depend on BP and its large profits for part of their income. BP is also a major taxpayer in Britain, which is eager to reduce its huge government deficit. But what is at issue here is BP’s responsibility for a huge mistake and for the damage to, and possible destruction of, one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet — and the many thousands of livelihoods that go with it.
These are points President Obama can and should make when he meets with BP officials next week. The main point to stress, of course, is that BP must be in this for the long haul, that Americans expect it to meet its obligations under law and that it must honor its oft-repeated commitment to pay claims from individuals even if those claims exceed statutory limits.
The president might also point out that BP is not on Americans’ most-trusted-corporations list right now — partly because of its carelessness, partly because of its chief executive’s tin ear.
Many people are genuinely worried that BP will not have enough money on hand to pay for the cleanup and claims. To make sure that it does, some have suggested the Justice Department enjoin the company from paying its dividends. The company may soon find it prudent to do that on its own.
Although BP has about $11 billion in cash and investments on hand, its obligations in the gulf could exceed this cushion as well as anticipated profits. Credit Suisse has suggested that a total bill of $40 billion is not out of the question — even without a finding of gross negligence. That number is breathtaking. The destruction BP has wrought is even more so.