There are two battles being fought right now in the Gulf of Mexico to combat the worst environmental disaster in American history. These two battles must be won decisively and quickly or else the disaster will soon become a bullet into the heart of this country, a national assassination that will plunge us into years of economic collapse and political chaos. Unfortunately the media and political discourse that this moment is myopic and missing the strategic two-front-war concept.
What are the two fronts of this war? Simply put, a war on oil, and a war of money. The oil war consists of capping the spewing gusher under the Gulf of Mexico and cleaning up the oil that has escaped. Both capping and cleaning are fraught with continuing peril of failure. The alleged worst case scenario, having to wait until August to drill relief wells and plug the gusher is not the worst case scenario. What if, for example, a hurricane interrupts this delicate drilling operation a week before the wells are finished and sets the relief well drilling back two months or more? As for capturing the oil, clean up professionals know that even a 15% pick up is as good as it can be done once it hits land and grassy marshes are impossible to clean, no matter how many thousands of people are wiping oil up with absorbents. And again, that is if no hurricane blows the oil deep inland. This does not even begin to account for the vast plumes of oil invisible underwater, getting potentially entrained in the Gulf Stream and carried throughout the Atlantic Ocean to rise and flow randomly destroying the environment for decades. The oil war is going to be long costly and depressing. But it must be done and it must be done fast and it must be done without regard for financial cost.
This brings up the second front in the Gulf Oil War, the money battle. BP has the money to pay for everything. The war already being fought is over how much money BP is going to give up. With the current dynamic, BP will win this war completely, just like Exxon did in Alaska, and America and our environment will lose. If America allows BP to win the money war, it means we are directly subsidizing their greed, failures, incompetence and our own destruction.
The current dynamic is that BP is holding all the money and everyone, from the one boat fisherman, the bait shop, the net repairman, to the town, to the parish, to the State and the Federal government - every single one must hand BP an invoice and wait to see if they get paid. People who are working to clean up the oil on BP’s payroll must sign away their rights, and limit BP’s liability. Soon people are, out of sheer desperation, going to take whatever cash BP gives them, a fraction of what they have really lost, and sign away their rights to future recovery to get it.
Whenever the government presents a bill to BP for anything, BP is going to question the bill, and the government being the government will take less to avoid protracted arguing over the bill. The current dynamic of BP holding the money and America trying to wrest this money out of BP one invoice at a time will never succeed, will only breed suspicion and ill-will, pit citizens against the government, and will result in BP paying pennies on the dollar for its gross incompetence and likely criminal negligence. It will be forever infuriating, and politically defeating to be subsidizing failure and arrogance of this magnitude for years to come.
The subtext of the America vs. BP money war is that BP views their role in this debacle as limiting their liability and enhancing their battered public relations image. Witness the statement that while BP may decide to pay for emergency berms to be built they won’t be liable for unintended consequences of those berms, or witness their pathetic attempts at apology through TV and print ads. The rest of America views BP’s money as needing to pay for the costs of cleanup and the losses suffered because of the oil disaster. These two perspectives are mutually exclusive and non-negotiable, so war is inevitiable, and each side of the battle must use all weapons available. Unfortunately, BP is already on a war footing against us and our government, carefully limiting its liability and spending money on dividends and PR advertising. Meanwhile the US is doing nothing to ratchet up to a war footing.
BP’s only concern about the oil and money wars is minimizing the impact of this “mistake” on their stock price. If they don’t pay their dividend their stock will plummet further. The company’s market cap has lost tens of billions of dollars in the past month. Right now that is far more money than they plan to pay to stop the gusher and clean the oil out of our environment, so that is really their concern. America and its government must change its strategy in this money war to make BP more concerned about paying us back than propping up their stock price.
If you ask the fisherman who is going to lose his entire income this year if he could get oil disaster insurance coverage that would make him whole for his income loss and make payments on his boat, and cover his additional medical bills from oil exposure, do you think he would be interested? Or do you think he would rather deal directly with the million dollar lawyers at BP to try to get his money? If you were a boat repair shop or a fisherman’s supply store, or the fishing boat fuel supplier, or the bait and tackle shop, or the coastal hotel and restaurant, and you could get business interruption insurance for oil spill related revenue losses wouldn’t you sign up? Of course you would.
Is this post-disaster insurance available? Of course not, the worldwide insurance system could never fund post event insurance where there are only massive claims to pay out and no premiums. Therefore Congress must act to create such oil spill disaster insurance in the next few weeks. Hopefully President Obama would sign it and this would subsequently be seen as the greatest and most directly effective action our President and government could possibly take to save our country and its environment.
When banks collapsed, the government acted rapidly to create TARP which was essentially bank disaster insurance. Main Street didn’t see the money and people got mad. It is now time for the government to get money directly to oil-slicked Main Street through an oil disaster insurance program. It is imperative that Congress and this Administration act immediately to create oil spill disaster insurance, funded by BP cash, which could be called the Gulf Oil Liability Fund or “GOLF”.
This fund would be Federal oil spill disaster insurance for all affected parties. It would have a division to pay fully and completely for the best clean up and restoration services the world has to offer independently of whether the actions impact BP’s liability or public relations image, a division to pay for business interruption and personal income losses and a division to handle medical claims. By taking the claims process out of the hands of BP and their lawyers, individuals and small business are not forced into a David and Goliath situation to get their claims paid fairly, justly, completely and most importantly, quickly. For example, why should clean up workers who are obviously sickened by excess exposure to the toxic crude oil have to prove to BP CEO Tony Haywood that they didn’t have “food poisoning?”
There are thousands of independent insurance professionals, adjusters and claims specialists in the country who would be very happy to help people and businesses recover their losses and thousands more who could use jobs and training in the insurance field. There are hundreds of empty offices and storefronts in need of renting across states being devastated financially by this oil disaster. Claims could be simple and easy to make and compensation can be rapid without having to battle BP lawyers. GOLF could fund TV programming to explain how it works and show the claims process. GOLF could start pouring millions of dollars into the hands of people who desperately need it now, and into the hands of the broadest range of oil cleanup experts who would not have to play by BP’s rules designed more to limit their liability and less to clean up oil. Create GOLF and create a massive insurance program to put people’s lives back together and provide an immediate boost to the economies of the Gulf Coast and ultimately the country.
It seems obvious that GOLF is a winning policy for winning both the oil war and the money war against BP, because the source of GOLF cash is BP and its cronies in disaster, not the government. The GOLF legislation should require a deposit from BP of, for starters, $25 billion, just to make sure GOLF is instantly robust. A better figure would be $50 billion, which is just a bit more that a year and half of BP’s profits and miniscule compared to the size of the TARP system.
If BP doesn’t think that is fair, then let them fight that one out in the court of public opinion. If the Federal government had the kind of guts a money war in the Gulf really requires, then they would give GOLF the authority to shut all BP’s American operations down until they pay their deposit in full, or alternatively, treat BP as the disaster mongering terrorists they are, and just seize their assets up to $50 billion.
Look at it in a simpler setting. If a landlord has a tenant who is going to trash the apartment, the landlord takes a security deposit and holds it until the tenant moves out. If the apartment is trashed, the landlord cashes the deposit and fixes the apartment back up. Having BP fund GOLF with $50 billion is no different than taking a security deposit and using it to pay for the damage while BP continues to earn billions a month in profits from our country. Or we can just call it BP’s oil disaster insurance premium. The important thing is to get out of the mindset of sending bills to BP to collect on our losses. Take control of the money, and you take control of the recovery.
BP needs to hold America harmless for their gross incompetence and negligence. In the real world, responsible people and companies use insurance to pay for that indemnity. There is no oil spill disaster insurance for Americans and the American environment, except for BP’s cash, and BP is not going to suddenly become a friendly insurance company. We need GOLF now to set us on the right course. We may not win the war on oil in the Gulf of Mexico completely, but with GOLF we can win the money war against BP in the gulf and save lives and environment.