May 3, 2010

Does the government have constitutional permission to cap a well?

Asks Mark Kleinman:
"Where in the Constitution does it say that the Federal government has the power to cap runaway oil wells? I hope the proponents of limited government will come forward with free-market plans to do the job. After all, socialism is much more dangerous than crude oil."

Yglesias noted that for many conservatives that limited government disappears and appears on command. Few would question that the government has a role here to protect the coast and certainly intervene. Hell, the right has already tried to suggest that this is Obama's Katrina moment.

But dare to suggest that insurance be extended, and the constitutional hand-wringing begins.


One other note. I am watching with horror as the state of Oklahoma gets more and more ridiculous. The insanity will probably not end, as I read this morning they are considering an anti-immigration bill to compare to the one from Arizona. As my neighbor suggested, the GOP is now in the mode of, "oh now you think you are more conservative than me?"

Meanwhile the budget continues to sink, and the GOP plans on cutting everything, including prison workers and teachers. Who needs teachers? Meanwhile, I heard from a progressive candidate yesterday that Oklahoma leads in the incarceration of women. Woohoo. We are number 1.


6000 said...

The government does not need to cap the oil well. It is not their responsibility. BP knows how to cap it, or they know someone who does, and they should be responsible for getting that done.

Smitty said...

BP knows how to cap it, or they know someone who does

Agreed, 6000. In fact, in an interview this morning on NPR, BP's CEO said it IS their responsibility, and they are going to be the ones to cap it AND pay for it.

Streak said...

So, 6000, perhaps you could tell us your philsophy of government. Do you think we should pay taxes for schools? For street lights? Sewer systems? Public libraries?

Or should everything be privatized?

And I am back to the issue of under a small government, who could force BP to actually pay the full cost? Did Exxon voluntarily pay those people who suffered from their spill? Would any corporation do that out of the goodness of their heart?

6000 said...


BP should assume their responsibility. I wonder if they have any insurance for such an event? If they will not fix things, then we have a court system in which they can be sued. And, they'll probably be sued even if they do fix it.

Streak said...

That is kind of my point. Yes, they should take responsibility, and there are mechanisms that force them to, but that is part of what this government does. It creates the infrastructure for contracts, and the judicial system for airing disputes, and the enforcement for those rulings. That doesn't occur in some private enterprise idyllic state, but in one where the government plays an important role in allowing private enterprise to thrive.

steves said...

Constitutionally, it would probably be ok. Traditionally, environmental protections are a "police" power that the federal gov't has had. Public nuisance laws and litigation go back to the founding of our country.

I generally think that the court system does an adequate job of dealing with these kinds of problems, but I also think there is a place for the gov't in acting. Litigation is very expensive. Joe fisherman that operates a single fishing boat is going to be hard pressed to come up with the 10's of thousands of dollars in legal fees to sue BP, nor will they probably want to wait 2 or 3 years before they see a dime of compensation.

This is really a moot point, though. BP is going to have to foot the bill for the clean up.

Monk-in-Training said...

Yes Oklahoma does have one of the highest female incarceration rates in the country.

I have, in the past, been part of a ministry that attempts to help the many children of these women (and men) who are in prison.

BP may have a 75 million limit, put in place by Pres G. H. W. Bush, I hope they don't, but wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't the case.

Smitty said...

This is really a moot point, though. BP is going to have to foot the bill for the clean up.

Exactly. BP estimates this will cost them between $1.1 and $1.6 billion-with-a-B.

BP may have a 75 million limit

That limit only applies to liability claims. That's a tort claim cap on economic damages, as part of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund law. So if they are sued by someone for damages, that's their cap. But that doesn't count for cleanup, which they will pay for.

leighton said...

This TPM article has a good summary of the cost cleanup issues and possible forthcoming changes to the $75 million damages cap.

Streak said...

I noticed as well that BP was going around the Gulf Coast offering people a lump sum (pretty small) if they agreed not to sue. I think they may have stopped that because of how bad it looked.

I think there are a lot of things going on here, and one of them is that while many of us would like cleaner energy, that simply isn't a complete solution yet. These kinds of accidents are going to happen, and that is a bit of a cost of business for all of us driving cars and using energy in general.

But I also think that this entire scenario shows that the small government utopia that so many conservatives seem to hold dear--doesn't really exist, and/or would not even be useful in this kind of situation--as many small government politicians are proving this week when they demand more from the government.