BP continues to stonewall the American people about the growing Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf, even while the company is reaping millions of dollars in profits a day from its other federal leases.
The White House, the Department of Interior, and Congress are all crying foul, but they are not taking action to hold BP accountable. If the Obama administration is serious about making BP pay, there is a very simple and powerful tool at its disposal: the EPA can take away BP's billions in federal contracts.
The Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to bar BP from receiving U.S. government contracts. Suspension of BP contracts would mean the loss of billions of dollars and effectively stop the company from drilling in federally controlled oil fields both on and offshore.
Discretionary debarment is among the most serious actions EPA can take. EPA's own regulations allow the agency to ban BP from future contracts after considering "the frequency and pattern of the incidents, corporate attitude both before and after the incidents, changes in policies, procedures, and practices."
Prior to the current Gulf spill, EPA had linked BP to at least four instances of criminal misconduct, and BP has paid tens of millions in fines for environmental crimes. According to the public interest investigative journalists at Pro Publica, the EPA is considering re-evaluating BP and determining whether the company's actions leading up to and following the Deep Horizon spill are evidence of an institutional problem inside BP that would qualify for debarment action.
If BP is hit with discretionary debarment, the company would lose valuable contracts for selling fuel to the military and would be prohibited from obtaining or renewing drilling leases on federal land. EPA could also cancel BP's current federal leases. The impact on BP's bottom line could be in the billions of dollars.
Neither Congress, nor President Obama, nor Interior Secretary Salazar have taken steps to truly hold BP accountable. It's up to EPA to use the regulatory tools at its disposal to make BP pay.
The American people are outraged by the politicians' inaction in the face of an exponentially growing economic and environmental disaster in the Gulf. It's time for EPA to take immediate and decisive action.