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Barbour naive where it comes to BP

June 18th, 2010

When the Exxon Valdez ran ashore in Alaska in the spring of 1989, I was a 22-year-old college student and editor of the student newspaper at Delta State University in Cleveland.
I remember being so interested in the events surrounding the oil spill that I seriously considered moving to Alaska to help with the clean-up — so much so that I interviewed with a relief effort group about the possibility.
In the end, I stayed in Cleveland, but I do remember writing a column about the matter.
There was so much hatred and venom directed at Exxon, including boycotts and the threat of historically large lawsuits, that somehow I thought those efforts might undermine the clean-up.
What I wrote was similar to what Gov. Haley Barbour said last week concerning BP and the current oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Barbour said he’s not sure the federal government should have made BP put $20 billion into escrow to compensate victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill because the company needs it to drill more wells and make money so it can pay up.
My thoughts on Exxon in 1989 were to keep buying from Exxon so it can afford to clean up the mess, otherwise we, the people, will end up footing the bill.
As I read Barbour’s comments and was reminded of my own thoughts, I was also, on this Father’s Day week, reminded of what my dad told me after having read my column about Exxon.
In so many words, my dad, as fiscally conservative as they come, said that he understood where I was coming from but responsibility was more important than anything else.
In the end, he said, no matter how much money you may have, we all have to put on our pants one leg at a time, and that, as such, every person has to be just as responsible for their actions as the next guy.
Without that feeling of responsibility, he reminded me, there will be those that feel they are above the rules that the rest of us live by.
Sound familiar?
BP anyone?
It would be easy to sit back, look at Barbour’s comments and say that he is out of touch with the everyday folks on the Gulf Coast; or how in the world could he have such different views than his counterpart in Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, who is praising the efforts for compensation from BP.
“If they take a huge amount of money and put it in an escrow account so they can’t use it to drill oil wells and produce revenue, are they going to be able to pay us?” Gov. Haley Barbour asks.
“We need them to generate revenue to be able to pay us,” said Barbour, a Republican. “I worry that this escrow account reduces the chance of that rather than increasing the chances of that.”
Unfortunately, BP has not proven to be a company that is accountable or responsible for its own actions.
The company has been evasive and blatantly obstructive during the entire process.
Without pretending to get into the mind of President Obama, I think it is fair to say that if BP had been open, transparent and forthright during the last eight weeks, there wouldn’t be a need to create an escrow account to set the money aside, with the company agreeing to put $5 billion a year into the fund for the next four years.
Barbour’s comments are naive from the standpoint that, because of the escrow account, the chance of BP losing so much money during the next four years that it can’t pay fines and restitution for its actions is almost laughable.
Exxon, for all of its similar problems in the Valdez disaster more than 20 years ago, seems to be doing OK these days.
That’s not say there aren’t going to be tough times ahead for BP, its shareholders and leadership.
However, I doubt BP’s problems and financial distress will rise to the problems and financial distress of the small business people of Mississippi and the rest of the Gulf Coast who are all still waiting for the company to show some responsibility for its actions and respect for the (human or otherwise) lives that have been disrupted or ruined.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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