A Modest Proposal: Oil Spills
Like the Exxon Valdez, the BP Deep Horizon tragedy will render long term damage to the environment. There is economic devastation to the local communities effected by these disasters. The world remains dependent on oil and the need to drill remains. Even with the most stringent measures, there is no guarantee that such accidents will never again occur.
Where do Libertarians stand?
Those that do harm should be fully responsible for the damage they do. Then why do politicians support liability caps? Yes, despite all the talk from politicians that BP is fully responsible, your federal government limits the liability that companies incur for the damage they do. Recently your esteemed Congress critters decided to keep BP and others from accepting full responsibility for the financial impact of their mistakes. One of the arguments is that without liability caps small companies would not be able to compete because it would be too risky for them to incur unlimited liability. Do you want someone to do a risky job that didn’t accept full responsibility for the damage they might do? Liability caps should be eliminated.
The White House suggests the solution to preventing such disasters in the future is to replace the current bureaucrats with new bureaucrats. Has this ever worked?
While BP has been trying to devise ways of stopping the leak, dispersants are being used to break up the oil. These dispersants keep the oil in the water instead of allowing it to float and coagulate. This seems like a bad idea. Instead of having oil where you can see it and skim it, you render it untreatable and permanent. The long term harm this may do is unknown.
So thus far I have mentioned putting full liability on BP, not relying on new bureaucrats, and the questionable use of dispersants. The issue remains how best to mitigate the damage that is being done.
Consider the gold rush of 1849. People came from all over the world to California to gather gold and turn San Francisco into a thriving hub of activity. Today there is oil floating in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet we seem to be denying the ability of foreigners to help skim it. Additionally, there isn’t much in the way of incentive for anyone else to help. We are providing disincentives with bureaucratic compliance procedures before anyone can help. If I haven't already convinced you, look here, here, and here.
In my humble opinion, BP owned the oil that they drilled for and collected but they do not own the oil they spilled. They lost their claim to it when they dumped it in the gulf. A declaration of “finders-keepers” and waiving the red tape restrictions on people that want to help could provide the incentive for people from all over the world to come in and clean this up. Once you have the oil you can decant it and sell it to refiners and be financially rewarded for your cleanup efforts.
Is this legal? It may not be. The last part of an article by Roger Parloff for CNN states that the oil floating in the gulf is either the property of BP or the federal government. I think that can be fixed. Pass legislation right now that states the oil belongs to anyone that cleans it up.
Perhaps this will result in an oil rush to the gulf. Perhaps having skimming boats all over the gulf waters will clean up the oil faster than the current rate, which seems lethargic. If we stop the dispersants the oil will remain on the surface where it can be skimmed and cleaned up permanetntly. For any damage caused by oil that hasn’t been cleaned up, the full liability goes to BP. By removing the liability cap it provides the incentive in the future for companies to seriously consider safety and environmental impact before they proceed with their plans.
There may be reasons some of these proposals are not realistic. However, I have not heard these proposals seriously debated or considered. So let’s do so here. Maybe we can get some action to occur and get the oil rush to the gulf kick started. Let’s get this cleaned up now!