The President listed many steps he is taking to prevent another catastrophe like the one occurring in the Gulf of Mexico, all of which make sense. But, the central difficulty the past few weeks, and the President knows this better than anyone, is that he government charged with protecting our shores lacks the technology to stop the oil gushing from the broken well, and must rely on the same company whose willingness to cut corners created the mess in the first place. None of the steps the president outlined address this difficulty.
Before any more off-shore drilling is allowed, the government should create the equivalent of a fire brigade. They should order their own equipment. They should train their own personnel. They should bring the best and the brightest together to experiment with different technologies for plugging leaks. They should find ways to hasten the response to an explosion like the one that caused the current problem. It is unclear to me why it took so long between the effort to put a large concrete cap over the well, which failed, and the effort going on now to “top kill” the leak. The new fire brigade would be trained to try such measures one right after another.
Who should pay for this? The oil companies of course. This brigade would be available to all companies, so the cost would probably be less than what BP will end up paying in clean-up for the catastrophe. The brigade would be the equivalent of the FDIC fund, which banks pay into, guaranteeing the deposits of all bank customers.
The President said, “Where I was wrong was in my belief that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios.” He is spot-on. But, the way to correct that is not with a six month moratorium on new drilling. It is to have the government take charge of planning for worst case scenarios, as well as to increase oversight of oil companies to make sure such worst-case scenarios do not come to pass in the first place.
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