Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen.
The BP disaster taught us many things: Giant corporations cannot be trusted to behave responsibly, and have the ability to inflict massive damage on people and the environment. We need strong regulatory controls to curb corporate wrongdoing. We need tough penalties to punish corporate wrongdoers. There is no way to do deepwater oil drilling safely. And it is vital that citizens harmed by corporate wrongdoers maintain the right to sue to recover their losses.
Unfortunately, Congress and the Obama administration have refused to learn the lessons from the BP disaster:
1. BP’s reckless actions and inactions caused the Deepwater Horizon disaster — a reminder that corporations cannot be trusted to police their own activities.
BP made a conscious decision not to install a $500,000 safety device that could have prevented the blowout. BP pressured its contractors to skirt safety measures, and those contractors made multiple mistakes leading up to the disaster.
The lesson that corporations can’t be trusted to police themselves should be blindingly obvious. Yet the Obama administration is now proposing to take government inspectors out of poultry processing plants — and give Big Chicken responsibility for ensuring poultry safety.
2. Strong regulatory controls over corporate activity are necessary to ensure health, safety and planetary well-being.
To its credit, the Obama administration acknowledged that the pre-BP disaster oil drilling regulator — the Minerals Management Service, probably the most compromised regulatory agency in Washington — couldn’t be reformed, specifically because it had the duty both to collect oil royalties and regulate oil drilling. It split the agency apart, creating the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOE) to regulate drilling. But Congress has failed to ratify the change in law, which means it could easily be undone by subsequent administrations.