Finally Congress got the red meat they were hoping for, Tony Hayward CEO of BP, was presented gladiator style to group of peeved congressmen who wouldn’t be happy unless the BP executive was properly scolded on national television. I hate BP’s criminal negligence and cost cutting culture as much as the average American. I also think that some BP executives should be fired and major systemic changes need to be made in the company. Many pundits note that BP will never be able to pay the true cost of the oil spill, 11 humans lives lost are of course priceless, and the ecological damage almost just as priceless, and tourism and business may be crippled for years or even decades.
So why wasn’t it fun watching Tony Hayward get grilled?
Probably because Congress’s neck is also on the line, and because many looked the other way when it came to policing the oil giant. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have likely received campaign contributions from BP, and no doubt their primary and election day challengers may make light of this fact.
In a way Congress, and the White House, are just as much at fault as BP is. BP, like most companies, is focused on the bottom line and answers to its shareholders to some extent. Most businesses would love to regulate themselves as no doubt there are regulations that some businesses view as too onerous. BP was big enough and powerful enough to get its wish. What happened next wasn’t exactly a shock. BP’s safety record is the worst out of all the oil companies, and many in Congress knew this.
The federal government however is not a business. Its job is more narrowly defined, at least in the case of the Mines and Minerals Services, that Uncle Sam is the cop who makes sure that the businesses are abiding by the rules. While businesses are in the precarious position of juggling profits versus safety, the regulators sole job was not done.
Of course BP will be held responsible, and the company will likely face a slew of lawsuits despite the $20 billion dollar escrow account setup to pay victims. However, given the level of disaster, it is likely that many will not be fully compensated as BP simply doesn’t have that much money. Many people who recognize the disaster as being an apocalypse which will destroy their lives are oscillating between stages of anger, denial and acceptance.
Congress’s anger isn’t personal and sounds crafted in order to get a sound bite on the evening news and aimed at trying to get BP’s CEO to admit that his company is criminally negligent. However, the attacks sounded cheesy and insincere for some reason. Rep. Bart Stupak talked about members of the committee taking off Hayward’s “hide.” Such overly angry, and almost school yard bully type, comments appear ill suited for the serious business of cleaning up and dealing with the worst oil spill in the history of the country which still has not been controlled.
In the end the congressional grilling of Tony Hayward will do little to help the victims of the oil spill, and it won’t bring back the 11 workers who did on the rig. The American people needed more specifics about how the oil spill will be stopped, and a quicker and better coordinated federal response.
One of the biggest questions, why is BP still running the show, wasn’t asked during the hearing. BP may be putting clean up workers in harm’s way and creating another environmental problem by releasing toxic dispersants and burning crude. Congress shouldn’t be questioning BP at this stage as important decisions need to be made today regarding the oil spill which will impact potentially millions and involve the health of people in the gulf. Sadly, with each passing day the crisis gets worse and yet nobody knows who is really in charge.