The Obama Administration Makes BP Look Good

Two months ago I said the Obama administration was making a mistake to demand that BP turn over to the federal government the responsibility for compensating victims of its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  My reasoning was that the move would shift what should be an adversarial position between claimants and BP to putting those claimants in an adversarial position with the Obama administration.

In today’s edition of the Tallahassee Democrat, my local newspaper, a front-page story reports exactly what I said would happen.  Here is a link to the headline, but like many newspapers, the Democrat (an appropriately-named paper, by the way) requires a subscription to read its articles.

Alex Sink, Chief Financial Officer of the state government, and Democratic candidate for governor, is quoted as saying, “I’m sick and tired of this,” referring to the Obama administration’s handling of the claims process, and says she’s “at the tipping point” of filing a lawsuit against the Obama administration.  That is Florida’s Democratic candidate for governor!  “If that’s the only place to go, then so be it,” she concludes.

An owner of a bait and tackle shop in Pensacola says, “BP, now, looking back was excellent,” and says about Obama’s administrator of the claims process, Kenneth Feinberg, “He’s a liar.  I hate to be that blunt, but he is.  He tells you what you want to hear…”

When you think of all the bad press BP has received over the spill, it is remarkable that the Obama administration can make BP look good by comparison, especially when the comparison here is how each of them handled the aftermath of the spill!

I’m not finding fault with Feinberg here.  Trying to fairly compensate victims of BP’s negligence will not be an easy job, and as I said in my earlier commentary, “…lots of people are going to claim financial harm, and lots of them are not going to be compensated as much as they think they deserve.  It’s human nature to think you deserve more than you’re getting, especially when you believe someone has harmed you.”

Understandably, many people will be dissatisfied with the outcome of the claims process no matter how fairly and efficiently it is carried out.  That is why it was a huge blunder for the Obama administration to force BP to give up what was its legal obligation and take this obligation on itself.  Just two months later we see how true this is.  The anger that should have been directed at BP is now being directed to the Obama administration, all because the Obama administration demanded it!

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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