BP Execs Arrive at White House / AP Photo

By: Brian Sikma

When Congressman Joe Barton (R-Texas) used his position as ranking member of the House Energy Committee to apologize to the leadership of BP for the way they have been treated by the federal government, he quickly found himself in hot water from both sides of the aisle. The black oil spreading across the Gulf has created a toxic environment in Washington towards anyone attempting to excuse the actions of the company that lauds itself as being “Beyond Petroleum.”

Unquestionably, BP has not been treated right by the Obama Administration. Forcing BP to set up a $20 billion escrow account was yet another advance by this administration in an all-out assault on the free-market system that is the only thing that will power our economy back to prosperity. When the Administration demanded that BP give the federal government a lien on $20 billion worth of U.S. assets as collateral on the escrow account, we saw a brazen power-play that resembled Chicago-style politics more than legitimate Constitutional government. Make no mistake: BP had no choice in this matter, and it was not a voluntary action on their part.

The unacceptability of the Administration’s effort to hold BP accountable is not justified even by the magnitude of the disaster. Government should never leap beyond its Constitutional bounds and arbitrarily seize control of private enterprise and private resources. We are a nation of laws, not bureaucrats with good intentions and limitless powers to resolve catastrophes and crises however they see fit. Elected officials, citizens, and even private sector players must respectfully and ardently oppose the BP arm-twisting and a repeat of similar actions in the future.

This is not to say that BP should not be held responsible for the damage it has caused. The billions of dollars worth of damage to the states and people along the Gulf should be compensated to them by BP. BP should bear 100% of the disaster clean-up costs because this problem, whether caused by an accident or a purposeful and willful negligence towards safety and good operating standards, is BP’s responsibility.

Individuals, corporations, and organizations are free to sue BP for real damages that they suffered. Those who immediately covered the bill for the clean-up effort, primarily the federal government and state governments, should seek to be compensated by BP for the costs that they incurred. Small business owners who suffered actual and real damages, for which there are definite monetary figures available to measure the extent of harm, should be free to join together in class-action lawsuits against BP to recover what they lost. Larger corporations and other entities that lost money may find it more appropriate to sue BP singly for compensation.

The problem that has marked the Obama Administration’s response to the crisis is not that they want to hold BP to account for what happened and make sure that BP pays for the damage it has caused, but that they have done so in a way that violates core Constitutional principles and unnecessarily bypasses established legal procedures. President Obama and his team like to focus on action and it is not at all disconcerting to them to place action – any action – ahead of the careful pursuit of justice via well established channels that serve to protect our nation and the freedom that we enjoy.

Unless held in check, the greatest damage to the country that results from the Gulf disaster will be the Obama Administration’s sacrifice of the rule of law on the altar of expedient action. Eventually the oil will be cleaned up, and with much effort the lives of the people along the Gulf Coast will return to a level of normalcy, but our nation will be negatively impacted for a very long time by the precedents set up by the government’s response to the disaster. Right now, both BP and Big Government are to blame for the disaster in the Gulf.

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