THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Derrick Z. Jackson

BP cleans up on political connections

By Derrick Z. Jackson
Globe Columnist / May 25, 2010

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IT IS DIFFICULT to conceive of a more resounding insult to our intelligence than BP’s full-page advertisements in the New York Times and USA Today about its response to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The BP ad begins, “Since the tragic accident on the Transocean Deepwater Horizon rig first occurred, we have been committed to doing everything possible to stop the flow of oil at the seabed, collect the oil on the surface and keep it away from the shore . . . on the seabed, we are using multiple technologies to reduce the flow of oil and ultimately stop it.’’

This is after multiple failures to use intelligence. On the day the ad ran, USA Today reported on how little research has been devoted to dealing with a spill that begins 5,000 feet underwater. The newspaper quoted a BP spokesman as saying that the company “doesn’t specifically’’ research oil spill response technologies. Instead, BP relies on oil spill response companies, such as Marine Spill Response, based in Virginia. But the spokeswoman for that company told USA Today that it has no budget for research. The newspaper wrote, “the basic equipment and tactics being used: boom, dispersants, burns and use of skimmer boats to pick up the oil haven’t changed much in the two decades since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.’’

The BP ad also said the company is “determined to do everything we can to minimize any impact,’’ but chief executive Tony Hayward initially downplayed the impact by calling the spill “tiny in relation’’ to the ocean. BP now boasts that over 4 million gallons of oil/water mixture have been collected in its surface cleanup efforts and that “more than 1.2 million feet of boom have been placed to protect the shore.’’ All of a sudden, BP can count!

Just after the spill, BP told Woods Hole researchers to stay home after they offered to help measure the flow of the spill. For weeks, BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles, senior vice president Kent Wells, and other spokespeople insisted that there is “no way to measure’’ the spill, even as scientists estimated the spill to be many times more than what BP and the Obama administration were saying.

The most intriguing paragraph of the BP ad was, “This is an enormous team effort. More than 2,500 of our operational and technical personnel from around the world are working tirelessly in coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard, and federal, state and local government agencies.’’

But until Deepwater Horizon exploded, BP’s idea of working tirelessly with government agencies was lobbying them to bypass environmental-impact reviews for well permits. Yesterday, the Times had yet another story on how drilling projects have proceeded with environmental waivers, despite President Obama’s so-called moratorium on permits. Deepwater Horizon received an environmental waiver last year and received another one just before the April explosion.

The company applies a full-court press in Washington. Since January of 2008, BP lobbyists have spent $30 million to influence legislation, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The 17th-ranked lobbying company in 2009, it has also nearly doubled its percentage of campaign contributions to Democrats, from a low of 22 percent 1996 to 43 percent today. President Obama was the largest recipient of campaign contributions from BP employees in 2008, at $71,000.

The White House says this is tiny in relation to the ocean of cash showered on his historic campaign. But the political oil slick is hitting more than the wetlands as the business-as-usual environmental waivers come home to roost. BP’s ad says, “We are also grateful for the dedicated support of the federal, state and local government officials and emergency responders.’’ Bless those who indeed are responding. But we are in this mess because the government was far too responsive to the desire of BP and Big Oil to put the environment on waivers.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at jackson@globe.com.

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