Janesville63°

"Disperse!" They say. "Disperse!"

Print Print
Rick Horowitz
May 25, 2010
WASHINGTON, Any Minute Now -- Faced with a growing environmental disaster and a sharply negative turn in public attitudes, the Obama administration is considering a range of significant new actions to deal with the oil-spill crisis along the Gulf Coast.

High on that list, according to well-placed sources, is a plan to drop hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemical dispersant on senior BP executives.


"We're not sure it'll do any good," said one administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "But it can't hurt."


The plan, which awaits a final sign-off from EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, has already been given tentative approval by President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Both men have been described as increasingly frustrated by what they see as a lack of urgency in BP's response to the spill.


The two were particularly incensed, sources say, by BP's initial unwillingness to curtail the use of a certain type of dispersant believed to be especially dangerous to wildlife in the Gulf.


"Time to give them a taste of their own medicine," said one person familiar with White House thinking.


As calls mount for the administration to take greater control of the situation, the frustrating reality remains: The oil companies themselves may be the only ones with the specialized equipment and technological expertise to cope -- however ineffectively thus far -- with this kind of mess. The idea of "push[ing] aside" BP, as Salazar recently threatened to do, is seen by most observers as a non-starter.


A bit of chemical revenge, on the other hand, could be wonderfully cathartic.


Meanwhile, sentiment within the White House was said to be growing for a similarly tough line to be taken with officials at the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency responsible for approving offshore drilling permits and enforcing safety standards.


According to senior administration sources, the White House is only days away from announcing a new "Human Booms & Berms" initiative, which would bring MMS personnel into "direct contact" with the situation in the Gulf for the first time. The initiative is said to involve taking several dozen MMS employees into Gulf waters by boat, and then deploying them in strategic locations all along the coastline.


Said one source, "These guys'll be a lot better at soaking up oil than they ever were at regulating it."


MMS officials have long been accused of being far too cozy with the companies they're supposed to monitor: accepting trips and other gifts, ignoring environmental concerns and even allowing the companies to -- literally -- write their own safety reports.


The BP spill, critics say, is the all-but-inevitable result of this lax oversight. And while plans have already been announced to dismantle MMS and separate its conflicting missions, the White House is said to want a more "personal" response, and one that will make a lasting impression on future regulators. A week or two treading water in the Gulf might be just the ticket.


"If it's good enough for the turtles," said the source, "it's good enough for them."


The president is expected to present these new approaches -- and, conceivably, several others -- by the end of the week, part of a stepped-up effort to portray him as both in command and hot under the collar, and a conscious break from the "No-Drama Obama" persona he normally tries to convey.


But these, the administration feels, are no longer normal times.


A senior White House official, asked whether the chemical dispersants and free-floating oil might prove toxic to those corporate and agency executives soon to be exposed to them, couldn't suppress a smile.


"We certainly hope so."


Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

Print Print