When it Comes to BP, We Must Be Careful What We Wish For

This morning, as I was driving through Mount Pleasant, SC on my way home to do more studying following my three-hour daily Bar Exam review class, I stopped at an intersection next to a late-model Ford pickup truck and its in-tow fishing boat, a great-looking center-console craft complete with all sorts of antennae and oceanfishing gear.  Scrawled on the back of the cab of the truck, in the same sort of auto paint used to celebrate graduations and cheer on high school football teams, were two words in enormous block lettering:

BANKRUPT BP

In the week-and-a-half since moving to the Lowcountry, I have become acutely aware of the trepidation felt by so many here with regard to the oil spill currently ravaging the marshes and beaches and wildlife along the Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama coasts in the Gulf of Mexico.  Just like along the “Redneck Riviera” and the rest of the Gulf Coast, much of the economy here is based upon the tourism and fishing and other related industries supported in spades by the beautiful beaches and pristine waterways along the South Carolina coast.  The worry is that quantities of oil, with or without disruption by a tropical storm, could get caught up in established currents and work its way around south Florida and threaten beaches and marshes and wildlife here.

On Sunday, allowing myself a break from a study schedule sure to get exponentially more grueling in the days and weeks to come, I walked with my daughter and my dog along the beach on Isle of Palms, in fact right where much of the film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, Dear John, had been shot.  As I always do when able to spend time on Isle of Palms, I marveled at the beauty of the place — as my daughter became more and more determined to find the perfect seashell, I found myself staring at the dunes, the vegetation, the sites where in previous years I had watched as just-hatched loggerhead turtles waddled their way toward the surf for the very first time.

It’s remarkably and justifiably easy to get caught up in the worry.  I know people who depend upon the water and wildlife for their livelihood.  Likewise, I know people who depend upon tourism to put food on the table, and my own father lives right on a beach which would be heavily affected by the downhill consequences of what’s been happening in the Gulf of Mexico for too long now. It’s easy, indeed, to get caught up in the worry, and I certainly understand how those who hold British Petroleum at least partially responsible would like for the company to reap what it has sown in its bottom line.

Certainly, this president and his administration could never, ever be considered “business-friendly” in any sense of the concept, and combined with the likely duty felt at the White House to kowtow to the environmental left wherever possible–not to mention the political pressure and public relations problems brought about by the widespread perception that the president and his administration has proven inept in the face of this crisis–the idea that public furor could transmogrify into administration-wide calls for bankruptcy is not so far-fetched.  Deliver a blow to both big oil AND big business?  I would expect those currently running the show in Washington, D.C. to absolutely jump at the chance.  And experts are starting to talk.

In the case of bankruptcy, however, we need to be careful what we wish for.

At this time last year, as the specter of Chapter 11 bankruptcy loomed over General Motors, a group of about 300 people found themselves in the midst of a legal nightmare.  The 300 or so people were tort claimants, people who had been injured–some seriously–by defects and problems with vehicles produced by GM and Chrysler, people who themselves at one time or another had probably wished the financial worst for the company or companies whose defective product had left them battered, broken, paralyzed or grieving.  Among them, the total amount of damages sought came in at an estimated $1.25 billion. Chrysler similarly found itself facing 160 tort claims, with its balance sheet showing an aggregate value of roughly $615 million.

When it came to the automakers, Chapter 11 bankruptcy created “New GM” and “New Chrysler.” “New GM” found itself owned in part by folks like the governments of the United States, Canada and Ontario, and “New Chrysler” by the U.S. and Canadian governments alongside Fiat and the United Auto Workers’ Viva Pension Benefit Fund.  Unfortunately for the tort claimants, hundreds of people legitimately and in some cases devastatingly hurt due to GM and Chrysler products, bankruptcy courts permitted “New GM” and “New Chrysler” to purchase the assets of their bankrupt old incarnations, “Old GM” and “Old Chrysler,” free and clear of any liabilities stemming from claims filed before the automakers’ bankruptcy petition date.

In other words, they got nothing.  Minor victories came in “New Chrysler” and “New GM” agreeing to assume liability for future claims, but the people who remained bent and broken as the automakers were bailed out found their right to redress decimated.

Now, think of the Gulf of Mexico.  Think of the families who depend upon the waterways and wildlife for food on their own table, tourism for their own livelihood.  Think of the people wholly ignored by Hollywood and the same elitist set who run to the aid of Haitians and Burmans and everyone else, yet remain eerily silent when our own find trouble in their daily lives through no fault of their own.  Right now, BP and the Obama administration are quick to reassure everyone in televised commercials and prime time speeches that those who file legitimate claims for damages caused by the oil spill will receive just compensation — the fate of General Motors and Chrysler, however, should be enough for those Americans affected by the spill to not rest so easily.

As we see images every day of the once pristine beaches now tarnished with oil, the birds and other wildlife fighting to move and breathe, and the thousands upon thousands of gallons of oil continuing to flow into the Gulf, it is understandably easy to want nothing more than to see heads roll.  And while I’m all for laying blame at the feet of those responsible, we must first focus our energy on stopping the flow and then on how to best clean up the mess caused by what has already spilled.  After that, however, when the time does come for investigations and committees and reevaluations of how environmentalist groups have driven us away from shallow waters and onshore sites in ANWR and beyond, when the time finally does come for ensuring that heads roll and financial consequences are put into place, we all need to look before we leap.

“BANKRUPT BP” may very well seem like the right thing to scrawl on the back of a truck hauling a fishing boat, and it may very well seem like the end result ultimately desired by this administration, but recent history has shown us that what seems just and right on its face could very well serve to ultimately harm those already feeling the brunt of this disaster.

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Comments

  1. A former Republic says:

    BANKRUPT AMERICA, oh wait, that has already been done.

  2. Boston Blackie says:

    Welcome back, Jeff. I have been preaching this to the choir for over a week now. I believe that BP WILL file just to alleviate itself from its responsibilities. When you have a president sending the AG down to the gulf so he knows whose arze to kick, why would BP cooperate with them. Will they be read their Miranda rights before Obeyme meets with them (if and when he does). I watched Huckabee this weekend and was amazed at the scientists / inventors he highlighted that could help with the oil spill one way or another. Sadly, almost none had been contacted by BP or this admin. Additionally, Obeyme will not lift, even temporarily, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 which mandates that ships working in U.S. waters must have been made in America and crewed by Americans. Bush lifted the ban during the Katrina cleanup. This means that offers of Belgian, Dutch and Norwegian skimming ships have been turned down.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think your choice of homepage background for this article speaks, typically unknown, volumes of myopic reactions.

    “The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths … What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?”

    -Eddie Adams, photographer

  4. Gail B. says:

    There is an email going around saying Boycott BP. That is the wrong thing to do. The service stations don’t belong to BP; they are franchises. If anything, we should be pulling up to the BP pumps to fill up! And, BP makes most of their money outside of refined gasoline.

    The one thing we don’t want is for BP to go under. Their stock has plummeted. The CEO has a thankless job right now–and Obama is of no help to BP or to the USA. We need for BP to do well so that it can afford to clean this mess up and restore people’s livelihoods.

  5. Patrick Henry says:

    Boycott this government.

  6. Anonymous says:

    If people here would stop for a minute and study the facts–the fact is our government contracted with BP after BP and many other oil companies put job bids on this project,BP came in cheaper than any of the others.The contract was made—all the ifs,ands,buts were laid out,the U.S. governement accepted it.Therefore you have a contract.In this contract I am sure it is stated somewhere,because BP has been in business for more than just one day,that in the event of some kind of a disaster,BP would pay a considerable sum in damages.Which infact has happened.And BP being insured will lean on it’s insurance company,which incase many of you don’t know 20 billion is alot of money and insurance companies generally are not to keen on paying claims especially one of this proportion/magnitude.So BP will go belly up,and your precious gas prices will go up and the first place they are going to up is the PUMP.And if you drive,have 32 boats and 15 atv’s for junior and 4 houses on wheels,it will affect you.As far as the spanking the government gave BP for this horrible thing that occured,because it is horrible,no one wants to see something happen to the ecosystem—but the U.S. government is also RESPONSIBLE PEOPLE.The powers that be and govern should have monitored this alot more closely than they did.AND THE FACT IS–”they”did not.The government was in business with BP and all money in taxes BP paid the government and let me tell you it was considerable.However forcing BP to pay 20 billion,the government did not have the authority to do.There is no specific law(s)mandating this.In a contract an amount is usually set forth that all parties agree upon.This could have happened at any time to any company,it happened to BP.I looked at it as a case of “first you love me then you don’t”when the going gets tough–the U.S government abandoned it’s partner BP so they could distance themselves and look good to the rest of the world and the small people of the U.S.The U.S after making more money then GOD’S DOG from this venture turned it’s back,just like it has on the American people on other issues.What I see is a slough of uninformed people passing judgement based on what they have heard in the media,not the facts.Look at the whole picture from the beginning until now and you will still find that BP preformed based on their contract with the U.S.Offshore drilling is dangerous to the environment,there was always a possiblity if an accident–everyone knew that especially the U.S. government.But they were willing to take that risk because hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue were generated.They went out bought 5000.00 suits,had 700.00 lunches and 300,000.00 vacations on those tax dollars and lined their pockets well.The biggest oil consumers are us,so some of the blame is on us as well.Stop so much demand.As far as apologizing to BP it’s a matter of opinion,I don’t think they are faultless but I don’t think they should have been spanked infront of the world,that was classless on the U.S part.But there has to be some kind of diversion with the unemployment rate being the highest it’s been,two wars,bailouts for wall street,insurance companies and automakers.

    Julieanna commenting on a YAHOO post

  7. Obama theme song says:

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