Who's in Charge of the Oil Leak?

The Environmental Protection Agency ordered BP to stop using the toxic dispersant Corexit to break up their oil mess in the Gulf of Mexico. BP decided to keep on using it. And why not? They're basically in charge down there.

That is essentially what Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland discovered when she took a trip down to Grand Isle, Louisiana, in the hopes of getting to Elmer's Island Wildlife Refuge. Except that every time she tried to get to Elmer's Island, a funny thing happened: The cops stopped her. Why?

The blockade to Elmer's is now four cop cars strong. As we pull up, deputies start bawling us out; all media need to go to the Grand Isle community center, where a "BP Information Center" sign now hangs out front. Inside, a couple of Times-Picayune reporters circle BP representative Barbara Martin, who tells them that if they want passage to Elmer they have to get it from another BP flack, Irvin Lipp; Grand Isle beach is closed too, she adds. When we inform the Times-Pic reporters otherwise, she asks Dr. Hazlett if he's a reporter; he says, "No." She says, "Good." She doesn't ask me. We tell her that deputies were just yelling at us, and she seems truly upset. For one, she's married to a Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputy. For another, "We don't need more of a black eye than we already have."

"But it wasn't BP that was yelling at us, it was the sheriff's office," we say.

"Yeah, I know, but we have…a very strong relationship."

"What do you mean? You have a lot of sway over the sheriff's office?"

"Oh yeah."

"How much?"

"A lot."

So, basically, BP is now regulating access to a state-owned and operated wildlife refuge. Why? "It's BP's oil." That is a quote, from BP flack Barbara Martin. BP now can prevent journalists from going to Elmer's Island unattended, because they own the oil that is ruining it. This is exactly what Adam Smith had in mind when he wrote The Wealth of Nations.

Meanwhile, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar keeps threatening to take the oil cleanup away from BP and, I guess, do it all himself. Which is great to hear, except that the federal government has no idea how to deal with something like this. In fairness to the Obama administration, no one has any idea how to deal with a leak of this magnitude—BP is kind of just making it up as they go along, which is deeply reassuring to hear.

So: Who is in charge of the oil cleanup? BP is in charge, and will probably continue to be in charge, using toxic dispersants and regulating media access to spill sites, for the foreseeable future. Good thing that BP has the public's best interest in mind.

[Mother Jones; WaPo; pic via Getty]