Robert Eugene Simmons Jr. observes that last Thursday’s $20 billion settlement by BP was forced by the White House without anything resembling due process, the color of law, or Constitutional authority.
There is no doubt that the oil spill produced by the Deepwater Horizon rig and BP is a disaster of monumental ecological proportions. There is no doubt that the spill has caused the loss of livelihood for fishermen, hotel owners, beach surfboard renters and millions of other people on the gulf coast. There is also no doubt that it is the responsibility of BP to get the well shut off and pay for the cleanup. Finally, there is no doubt that a full investigation should be conducted into how the spill happened, the role of BP and of the government in the spill and the mistakes made in the cleanup. It is important that we find out what caused the blowout, how it could have been prevented, why the cleanup was so slow in getting started, why foreign experts were not allowed to help, why the EPA is blocking applications of products as simple as hay which could soak up oil, and why Governor Jindal and others were disallowed the means to protect their shore lines by government bureaucracies.
However, none of these events or responsibilities gives the president the power to suspend the constitution, revoke the rule of law or demand payments from a company. In fact the $20 billion fund “demanded” of BP by the Obama administration does just that. To understand let’s review the facts around the fund.
The fund will contain $20 billion to ostensibly pay for cleanup efforts and provide compensation to those affected by the spill. Kenneth Feinberg, who is also known as Obama’s “pay czar”, will administer the fund. Mr. Feinberg, a political appointee, will have the final say so on who will receive money from the escrow funds and how much they will get paid. It is unknown what rules of evidence will be in force, what documentation will need to be provided and what the priorities and process for payout will be. Furthermore, so far there are no known constraints on what the fund can be used for; since Obama clearly views alternative energy as a long-term solution to oil spills in general, it is possible that he could direct part of that 20 billion to alternative energy research. In short, this is a huge 20 billion dollar fund under the sole direction of a single guy without even congressional oversight. Disturbed yet?
If you try to find the power in the constitution that allows Obama to do this, you will be even more disturbed. In this case the government can’t even claim the commerce clause of the constitution as legal basis because the commerce clause, even misinterpreted as it is, only applies to the legislature, not the executive branch. Where exactly in the enumerated powers of the constitution does the president have the right to “demand” money from a corporation, deem them guilty of a crime and extract a settlement amount? The short answer is “nowhere.”
Another pertinent question is what BP got out of this deal with the president. It is unlikely that they simply agreed to just drop $20 billion in escrow without agreements, legal documents or contracts specifying the use of the money. If BP obtained immunity from prosecution in exchange for the money then President Obama just violated extortion laws. Will we get full disclosure on the deal given to BP for this fund? What about the payouts themselves? Will we be allowed to be a watchdog over those funds? At this time it doesn’t look like it.