March 20, 2013

Decision Allowing BP to Bid on New Oil Contracts Signals Profits More Important Than Safety

Statement of Tyson Slocum, Director, Public Citizen’s Energy Program

Can a company behind the biggest environmental catastrophe in the country’s history clean up its act in four months?

Most people would say “absolutely not.” But, astoundingly, the Department of Interior (DOI) has said “yes.”

Late last week, the DOI decided to allow BP – which behaved so badly that the federal government just four months ago suspended it from bidding on federal contracts – to participate in today’s lease auction.

If the corporation’s suspension has not been lifted after the 90-day review of the auction, BP’s leases will be offered to the second-highest bidder. This puts pressure and unreasonable time constraints on the U.S. Environment Protection Agency to lift BP’s suspension from federal contracts.

Allowing BP to bid is unacceptable. The purpose of this type of suspension – which was put in place in November after a BP-affiliated company pleaded guilty to criminal charges in connection with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster – is to protect taxpayers from negligent and criminal contractors. By blatantly disregarding the intent, the government is turning what should be an effective tool to protect taxpayers into a paper tiger.

A return to decision-making that prioritizes revenue collection above all else is a return to the regulatory climate that contributed to the Gulf of Mexico tragedy.

When announcing the criminal settlement with BP, the Department of Justice stated that the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion “resulted from BP’s culture of privileging profit over prudence.”

It’s inconceivable that since November, BP could have made the sweeping changes required to make the corporation eligible for federal contracts.

In fact, in addition to an ongoing federal trial, a BP affiliate also is in litigation with the state of California, which has filed a claim against the company for safety violations at gas stations throughout the state. And BP continues to stonewall Congress, which has asked the company to produce all documents related to the spill and provide a full accounting of how and why BP's responses to congressional investigation were inaccurate and incomplete.

Yet now, BP will have an opportunity to bid on leases that are opening up 39 million acres of federal waters for drilling exploration.

Today, Public Citizen has resubmitted a petition to the EPA calling on the agency to adjust BP’s suspension so it coincides with the affiliate’s five-year probation period. The letter includes details about the lawsuit filed by the California attorney general’s office and BP’s continued obstruction of a congressional investigation of the spill.

We call on the DOI to put prudence and safety over profit by upholding its original position to ban BP from bidding on offshore leasing while under suspension.

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