Thursday, June 17, 2010

BP to set aside $20 billion for Gulf Coast damage claims, Republicans go berserk

Four days of intense negotiations between the White House and BP lawyers allowed President Obama to announce Wednesday that the oil giant would create a $20 billion fund to pay damage claims to thousands of fishermen and others along the Gulf Coast.

This is certainly a positive development. As Steve Benen notes, "the escrow account will make it less likely American taxpayers will be asked to pick up the tab for BP's disaster. It's not a substitute for an effective response to the crisis -- BP still has an incredible amount of work to do -- but it's a big step in the right direction."

That's right. It doesn't let BP off the hook, but it suggests that, with a big push from Obama (who deserves a lot of credit for making this happen), the oil giant is finally beginning to take genuine responsibility not just for the oil leak itself but for the long-term damage it has caused along the Gulf Coast.

As you might expect, though conservatives are not amused. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, for example, is worried that the fund will slash BP's profits, which, presumably, are more important than the environment and economy of the region, not to mention the way of life of and very welfare of those who depend on the Gulf, a clean Gulf, for their livelihood, many of whom of Barbour's own constituents.

And Michele Bachmann, finding conspiracy at every turn, thinks that the escrow account amounts to a huge "redistribution-of-wealth fund," as if the massive wealth of BP and its larger shareholders matters more than those in the fishing and tourism industries, among others, who are suffering immensely as a result of the spill, and who may never recover.

Of course, BP can afford to shell out billions of dollars, and the redistribution of wealth is hardly what this is all about. BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg may have put it condescendingly when he said his company cares about "the small people," but the point the escrow account isn't socialism, as Bachmann suggests, it's about helping people who have been, or who will be, virtually destroyed by this disaster. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that BP is acting compassionately in creating the account -- it is just bowing to political and public relations pressure, trying to look compassionate even if it really isn't -- but I think it's pretty clear that this is about providing much-needed help to those who need it. How utterly despicable a person do you have to be to be against that?

Once more, we see clearly just what the Republicans' priorities are. When faced with a catastrophe in human, economic, and environmental terms, all they really care about is protecting the interests of the rich, corporate, and powerful.

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