A few weeks ago, when the Presidential Commission on the Gulf Oil Spill announced that the Macondo blowout was NOT the result of decisions that BP made trying to save money, I was surprised. Much of the reporting we've seen has suggested that cost-cutting decisions on the over-budget well contributed to the disaster. But there was Fred Bartlit, chief counsel for the Commission, saying, "to date, we have not found a single instance where human beings made a conscious decision to favor dollars over safety." A Wall Street Journal blog said he "all but acquitted BP of the gravest charge it faced."
Or maybe not. New and excellent reporting out from Katie Howell at Greenwire shows that the commission deleted a slide from last week's presentation. The missing slide showed 11 instances where companies involved in the spill took risks to save time, and therefore money. Seven of the 11 decisions listed were made by BP employees. The slide was apparently accidentally uploaded to the commission's website and has since been taken down. (Below is the slide provided by Greenwire.) A commission spokesman said the slide was removed because it hadn't been approved by all commission members.
I'm more of a snafu-theorist than a conspiracy theorist: The world as it is seems to be the product of compounded mistakes and inattentions rather than a grand diabolical plan. So I'm disinclined to imagine that the members of the commission were trying to somehow favor BP or "acquit" it of wrongdoing by leaving out the slide and making statements that directly contradict it. But doesn't this look just awful?
President Obama could use this opportunity to make a principled response to the spill, not only by making the commission's dealings more transparent, but also by explaining how government oversight and regulation makes markets work better--not worse. During Congressional hearings on the spill, it came out that BP had been cited by OSHA for 760 safety violations in the past five years while Sunoco had eight, ConocoPhillips had eight, Citgo had two, and Exxon had one. This vast disparity in violations suggests that when government allows safety violations on that scale it is essentially rewarding companies who court danger. After all, BP gas and Exxon gas sell for the same amount per gallon in the marketplace, while Exxon clearly invests more money and resources in safety. The role of government is to enforce safety laws to create fair markets, and keep the environment safe for everyone.