Why? Hearings haven’t cleaned up a drop of oil

Published 12:02 am Sunday, June 13, 2010

The question that comes to mind is “why?”

About a month after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant announced he was forming a special committee of senators to “look into” the situation. House Speaker Billy McCoy did the same, saying a panel, mostly composed of representatives elected from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, would be convened to “look into” the spill.

State and federal agencies have clear responsibilities in this disaster, but the hearings that have been held in Jackson and in Washington, D.C., come off as staged events mostly held to provide quips, grimaces or forced confessions for broadcasters to pretend have news value. Very little substance is revealed. No strategies to actually deal with the situation are devised.

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After Mississippi’s House hearing last week, the headline was that McCoy was miffed because no one from BP appeared to testify. BP’s explanation was that most of the company’s brass was tied up in congressional hearings. McCoy replied that the company was given three days to choose from, yet chose none of them. “We cannot and will not condone their absence at these hearings,” McCoy harrumphed.

Again, we fail to see what calling BP executives on the proverbial carpet accomplishes. The company has admitted responsibility, promised full payment of all damages public and private and the CEO, Tony Hayward, has made a televised apology. Hayward also said damage caps enacted into law — by sanctimonious federal lawmakers fueled by oil industry campaign donations — will be ignored, not used as an escape clause. What needs to follow is enforcement of that promise, period. (Of course, hearings into how such a cap came to be passed in the first place might be interesting, but don’t expect that to be a topic.)

The stench of the political one-upmanship almost overcomes the manmade disaster fouling the ocean. The oil spill playbook should be this: (1) Get it stopped. (2) Get it cleaned up as much as possible. (3) Try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Hearings for the sake of hearings aren’t part of that script.