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Time for Obama To Take Charge of Gulf Disaster

05/27/2010

The Obama Administration has claimed that BP – a company under criminal probation at the time of the disaster – must continue to be in charge of managing the oil gusher despite the fact that BP has continuously prioritized its own self-interest ahead of relief efforts. BP has a financial incentive to underestimate the rate of the oil gusher, as the company’s liability is directly tied to the volume of oil released into the Gulf (hence the company’s role in denying scientists access to study the rate of the leak. BP continues to use the controversial chemical dispersant Corexit despite scientific warnings that Corexit is designed to be used on the ocean’s surface (not at 5,000 ft) so it can be broken down by sunlight – the environmental damage of dumping millions of gallons of Corexit might be as bad as oil, but of course BP will probably not be liable for damages related to Corexit pollution because Obama’s EPA continues to approve its use – so from BP’s vantage point they prioritize actions that limit their liability, consequences be damned . . .

Which brings us to the need for Obama to take charge . . . 

Section 4201(a) of the Oil Pollution Act, which is codified at Title 33 of the United States Code, Section 1321(c), reads in part:

(c) Federal removal authority.
   (1) General removal requirement.
      (A) The President shall, in accordance with the National Contingency Plan and any appropriate Area Contingency Plan, ensure effective and immediate removal of a discharge, and mitigation or prevention of a substantial threat of a discharge, of oil or a hazardous substance–
         (i) into or on the navigable waters;
         (ii) on the adjoining shorelines to the navigable waters;
         (iii) into or on the waters of the exclusive economic zone; or
         (iv) that may affect natural resources belonging to, appertaining to, or under the exclusive management authority of the United States.
      (B) In carrying out this paragraph, the President may–
         (i) remove or arrange for the removal of a discharge, and mitigate or prevent a substantial threat of a discharge, at any time;
         (ii) direct or monitor all Federal, State, and private actions to remove a discharge; and
         (iii) remove and, if necessary, destroy a vessel discharging, or threatening to discharge, by whatever means are available.
   (2) Discharge posing substantial threat to public health or welfare.
      (A) If a discharge, or a substantial threat of a discharge, of oil or a hazardous substance from a vessel, offshore facility, or onshore facility is of such a size or character as to be a substantial threat to the public health or welfare of the United States (including but not limited to fish, shellfish, wildlife, other natural resources, and the public and private beaches and shorelines 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.
      (B) In carrying out this paragraph, the President may, without regard to any other provision of law governing contracting procedures or employment of personnel by the Federal Government–
         (i) remove or arrange for the removal of the discharge, or mitigate or prevent the substantial threat of the discharge; and
         (ii) remove and, if necessary, destroy a vessel discharging, or threatening to discharge, by whatever means are available.
 
This appears to allow the President to generally direct oil spill cleanup efforts, and requires the President to direct oil spill cleanup efforts where there is a substantial threat to the public health or welfare.

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