Obama: BPs interests may not be aligned with the public interest

At Thursday’s press conference on the BP oil disaster, 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. Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson has the story in this repost.

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.”

This Wonk Room repost is by Brad Johnson.

11 Responses to Obama: BPs interests may not be aligned with the public interest

  1. mike roddy says:

    Many of us here on Climate Progress and everywhere else have been saying the same thing. BP has been lying about the amount of oil escaping into the Gulf, which should have caused them to forfeit any key decision making weeks ago. This kind of deception is insulting to the American government and its people, and is part of a pattern with all oil companies.

    When this is all sorted out for royalties- apparently BP will have to pay them on escaped oil- and other damages, there should be penalties added for obfuscation. This should also become an additional reason to force them to pay fair value for secondary damage from this eruption, including long term loss of ecosystem services and tourist income.

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    Aligned Interests?

    Hhhhmmmm. I appreciate the post, but I hate to tell you: There are many companies who see their interests in ways such that those interests aren’t really aligned with the interests of the “American public”.

    Actually, let me be clear. I’m not saying that many companies explicitly “go to ‘war’ against” the interests of the American public, purposefully and maliciously, with that aim in mind. I’m not saying that they are “out to get” the American public.

    Instead, I’m saying that some companies often follow their own “official” interests of profit growth in a way that ultimately amounts to “profit at all costs” and in degrees and ways that cause them, ultimately, to ignore the interests of the American public and to actually work against those interests, in effect.

    Do we think that ExxonMobil’s interests are healthfully and wisely and adequately aligned with those of the American public? My guest post this past Monday provides information that can help you “see” the answer to that question.

    We have a problem — a big one — with un-aligned or misaligned interests (i.e., the interests of some companies are not aligned with those of the public) in some hugely-important cases that go well beyond BP. Nor does the problem have all that much to do with “foreign” rather than U.S-based companies. In some important cases, that matters. But, there are many internationally headquartered companies in industries that are healthful and reasonably responsible and whose interests are aligned well enough with the public’s interests here. And conversely, there are some U.S.-headquartered companies whose interests aren’t well aligned with those of the American public. And among those, there are companies like ExxonMobil, headquartered in Texas, incorporated in New Jersey, but nevertheless with most of their assets and operations and resources outside of the U.S., who are intensely interested in continuing activities that are harmful not only to the American public but also to the entire global public, except for a few rich people and regimes.

    We have a problem. It’s not just BP.

    (By the way, the interests of The New York Times aren’t very well aligned with the interests of the American public, and one can see evidence of this every week. That’s particularly troubling, too, because of the supposed role of the press in a modern democracy.)

    Be Well,


  3. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Surely US law insists that corporations must maximize profits for their shareholders ? To the extent that shareholders can sue if disatisfied ? As I recall the profiteers who wrote the law didn’t include any caveat about particular interests having any priority at all, be they ecological, national, global or whatever.

    In this light the US corporation is a rapacious machine – by law.

    This of course reflects the Viking Economics that passes for right wing economic theory:

    “Trade when you must; pillage when you can; rape when you get the chance !”



  4. Leland Palmer says:

    The question of misaligned interests runs much deeper than BP, of course, and is at the heart of both the causes of global warming and the consequences of it.

    It’s in ExxonMobil’s interest to see an Arctic that is ice free in the summer, so that they can go after the oil and gas and methane hydrate resources currently blocked from exploitation by the Arctic pack ice. The Rockefeller family has traditionally dominated ExxonMobil, and may still be in charge- certainly they were able to send Lee Raymond the ex-CEO of ExxonMobil back to Texas with his 400 million dollar golden parachute in 2006, after a supposed battle for control of the company.

    The output of the Rockefeller dominated Council on Foreign Relations supports the supposition that our Wall Street elites are very, very aware of this. Consider the output of Scott Borgerson, a David Rockefeller Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations:

    The Arctic Ocean is melting, and it is melting fast. This past summer, the area covered by sea ice shrank by more than one million
    square miles, reducing the Arctic icecap to only half the size it was
    50 years ago. For the first time, the Northwest Passage—a fabled sea
    route to Asia that European explorers sought in vain for centuries—
    opened for shipping. Even if the international community manages
    to slow the pace of climate change immediately and dramatically, a
    certain amount of warming is irreversible. It is no longer a matter of if, but when, the Arctic Ocean will open to regular marine transportation and exploration of its lucrative natural-resource deposits…

    Ironically, the great melt is likely to yield more of the very commodities that precipitated it: fossil fuels. As oil prices exceed $100 a barrel, geologists are scrambling to determine exactly how much oil and gas lies beneath the melting icecap. More is known about the
    surface of Mars than about the Arctic Ocean’s deep, but early returns
    indicate that the Arctic could hold the last remaining undiscovered
    hydrocarbon resources on earth. The U.S. Geological Survey and the Norwegian company StatoilHydro estimate that the Arctic holds as much as one-quarter of the world’s remaining undiscovered oil and gas deposits.Some Arctic wildcatters believe this estimate could increase substantially as more is learned about the region’s geology.

    This article is not an isolated effort- it was instead a part of a speaking and media tour by Mr. Borgerson that included op-Eds in the New York Times and other major newspapers, testimony before both the House and Senate, a nationally televised interview by fellow CFR member Dan Rather, and quality time spent in a round table, discussing the issue with John Kerry. Mr. Borgerson has repeatedly asked in his testimony for the construction of a new fleet of nuclear powered ice breaker ships built at public expense- necessary for the exploitation of these Arctic resources, to lead the oil tankers through the melting pack ice.

    We might have to eventually face what I believe is the truth: our government is dominated by a Wall Street financial elite that simply does not want to solve the global warming problem. The coal interests don’t want to solve global warming, the oil interests don’t want to solve it, and likely the huge banks like the traditionally Rockefeller dominated JPMorgan Chase don’t want to solve it, because it might hurt the profitability of their major clients.

    It’s a sinking ship, this elite resistance to action on Global Warming, sunk not by able politics and communications but by reality itself.

    But it’s not sinking fast enough, IMO.

  5. Leif says:

    Well said Lewis. I too have long felt that humanity does not stand a chance unless capitalism and by extension corporations are committed to work for the survival and sustainability of humanity as opposed to being at the polar opposite evidenced today. Society created capitalism and corporations but in our ignorance failed to give them a “heart.” Consequently we have created a “Robot” with a license to kill and cannot be held accountable. Humanity needs these two powerful creations working in tandem with humanity not in their own self interests and humanities expense.

  6. Aaron Lewis says:

    It is a crime to lie to a federal officer. That included MMS, EPA, and Coast Guard. Fraud and gross negligence when dealing with hazardous materials are also crimes.

    BP took a calculated risk when they told the MMS, that a blowout was “unlikely”. They took a calculated risk by not having booms and cleanup crews ready in the event that some major went wrong at the well.

    Booming is not high technology, it is very expensive and labor intensive, but we know how to do it. Their booming is inadequate and incompetent. They are not doing the spill containment job that should be done and their financial liability for that failure is limited. Instead, they are simply trying to hide the spill with dispersant because that is the cheaper in the short run.

    I think all the BP executives that signed off on the drilling permit application and all BP executives that should have been responsible for oil spill contingency plans and preparations should be held criminally liable.

  7. Doug Bostrom says:

    BP’s interests may not be aligned with the public interest

    Talk about understatement. Skipping over whatever complete crap you may find in the green part of their annual report, tead BP’s bylaws and I’ll bet the public interest is not mentioned, not even once. BP’s interests are aligned w/the public interest purely by coincidence where such alignments may be found, which are probably as frequent as major planetary conjunctions.

  8. prokaryote says:

    Fresh from Gulf disaster, BP urges Canadian legislators to drop regulations allisonkilkenny/ 2010/ 05/ 13/ fresh-from-gulf-disaster-bp-urges-canadian-legislators-to-drop-regulations/

    BP-owned Alaska oil pipeline shut after spill
    Alaska (Reuters) – The Trans-Alaska Pipeline, partly owned by BP, shut down on Tuesday after spilling several thousand barrels of crude oil into backup containers, drastically cutting supply down the main artery between refineries and Alaska’s oilfields.

  9. Chris Winter says:

    There are some unwanted spaces in that True/Slant link. Here’s a corrected version:

  10. Windsong says:

    To Leif, (#5): Corporation: a big pile of money whose sole goal is to become a bigger pile of money. (FRom the book, The Long Emergency)