Administration has obligation to do more on oil spill
By Kate Sheppard
Earlier I asked why President Obama hasn't done more to take charge in the Gulf as the oil disaster drags into month two. I think it's fairly clear that the administration has no desire to take over what looks more like an impossible problem every day. But the administration might not have much of a choice legally if BP's latest attempt to shut the well fails.
The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was passed in the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989, amends a portion of the Clean Water Act to not only allow but require the federal government to take over if discharge from a "vessel, offshore facility, or onshore facility" is determined to be "of such a size or character as to be a substantial threat to the public health or welfare of the United States."
"The President shall direct all Federal, State, and private actions to remove the discharge or to mitigate or prevent the threat of the discharge," the law states (emphasis mine). One would certainly think that the gulf gusher qualifies as a "threat" at this point.
David Pettit, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, has more. Under the National Contingency Plan developed by the EPA in accordance with the Oil Pollution Act, the head of the Department of Homeland Security is directed to appoint a federal incident commander who is charged with carrying out this obligation. DHS head Janet Napolitano has appointed Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who maintained last weekend that he still trusts BP to fix the issue. This is not reassuring in the least.
The federal government wants to keep the blood of this disaster on BP's hands, which is both a political and practical move. But the administration has a legal, if not moral, obligation to do more.
Washington Post Editors
May 24, 2010; 1:46 PM ET
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