Too Much Government in the Gulf

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Sadly,
the disaster in the Gulf continues this week as BP’s efforts
at containment keep hitting snags and residents along the coast
scramble to clean up and defend their shores and wildlife. Many
have criticized the federal government in the past weeks for not
doing enough. The reality is there is only so much government can
do to help, yet a lot they can do to prolong the problem and misdirect
the pain. For example, in the interest of “doing something”
the administration has enacted a unilateral ban on offshore drilling.
This is counterproductive. I am proud to cosponsor legislation to
lift that ban. Why punish other oil companies and their hard-working
employees who had nothing to do with this disaster, and who have
better safety records?

And, as usually
happens after disasters, countless people — even officials
in local and state government — have come forward who know
what needs to be done and are willing to help, but have been stymied
by federal bureaucratic red tape as the oil continues to gush. The
real problem is not so much a lack of government assistance, but
government getting in the way of those who have solutions. We witnessed
the same phenomenon during hurricanes Katrina and Ike. It seems
government’s main role in these situations is to find excuses
to stall relief, hold meetings and press conferences, waste money,
punish the wrong people, and over-regulate.

Yet even after
many examples of past incompetence, people still look to government
to solve problems in the wake of disasters. A government that tries
to be all things to all people might engender a lot of learned dependence,
but ultimately it only harms the very people it is supposed to serve
as they wait helplessly for salvation from Washington.

Government
could help by holding the appropriate parties fully liable for damages
and clean-up costs. I am hopeful that efforts to do this are genuine
and BP is indeed held responsible for all damages, not shielded
by liability caps or reimbursed under the table by taxpayers. Unfortunately,
a large sum of taxpayer money has been slipped into the upcoming
supplemental bill for Gulf cleanup costs that should fall on BP.
Taxpayers should not have to bail out a major oil company that has
caused this horrible damage to our shores.

It should be
noted that BP is not exactly a bastion of free market capitalism.
Rather, they are very vested in acquiring government subsidies,
favorably slanted policies, and competition-hobbling regulation.
BP has even been a major lobbying proponent of cap-and-trade because
of certain provisions in the legislation it could profit from. Considering
who lobbies for them and what they lobby for, my concern is that
attempts to hold them strictly and fully accountable could end up
being nothing more than a shell game, with taxpayers ultimately
holding the bag.

If the government’s
idea of action in crisis is to punish the innocent, bail out the
guilty, and raise prices at the pump on everybody, we should want
them to do less, not more. Recent polls show sharply waning support
for offshore drilling. We still need oil, and a lot of good jobs
depend on oil production. It is crucial to the functioning of our
economy. But if accidents continue to be handled this way, it is
easy to understand why so many see more cost than benefit to off-shore
drilling, and that is also a tragedy.

See
the Ron Paul File

June
23, 2010

Dr. Ron
Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas.

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