At today’s press conference on the BP oil disaster, President Barack Obama’s first in 300 days, reporters discussed several of the issues raised by the Center for American Progress in “Calling the Shots in the Gulf.” The president was pressed on the relationship between the federal government and BP, and whether whether this criminally negligent foreign oil company can be trusted to manage so much of the response. NBC’s Chuck Todd asked why the president does not follow CAP’s suggestion to “ask BP to simply step aside on the onshore stuff” and “make it an entirely government thing.” Obama responded that BP had a system of contractors in place from the start but that the government is “potentially already in charge“:
I guess the point being that the Coast Guard and our military are potentially already in charge, as long as we’ve got good information and we are making the right decisions. And if there are mistakes that are being made right now, we’ve got the power to correct those decisions.
Even conceding the premise of depending on private contractors, is there any reason to believe that BP will give the government “good information”? Obama admitted that it’s in BP’s interest not to be open and forthcoming with the government or the American public:
Well, BP’s interests are aligned with the public interest to the extent that they want to get this well capped. It’s bad for their business; it’s bad for their bottom line. They’re going to be paying a lot of damages, and we’ll be staying on them about that. So I think it’s fair to say that they want this thing capped as badly as anybody does. And they want to minimize the damage as much as they can. I think it is a legitimate concern to question whether BP’s interests in being fully forthcoming about the extent of the damage is aligned with the public interest. I mean, they — their interest may be to minimize the damage and, to the extent that they have better information than anybody else, to not be fully forthcoming.
In other words, Obama recognized that although he as president is ultimately responsible for the response to BP’s devastating catastrophe, the government is only in charge to the degree they’re not kept in the dark by BP. And he knows that it’s in BP’s interest to keep the American people in the dark.
The president — and this nation — would be much better served if the foreign oil giant BP’s blatantly uncaring management were cut out of the response and people committed to the public interest were in charge of all operational decisions, from top to bottom. As MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said: “BP has got a business challenge; we have a national challenge.”