June 24, 2010

Johnson: BP's $20 billion "not good for America"

The Republican Party of Wisconsin's official millionaire candidate Ron Johnson is troubled that Sen. Russ Feingold got the impression Johnson is opposed to holding BP accountable for the Macondo spill.

Johnson insists that he is not, but his reasoning is incoherent.

During a WisPolitics.com candidate forum on Monday, Johnson was asked what he thought of the $20 billion escrow fund BP's CEO Tony Hayward agreed to on June 16. The money will be set aside in increments over a set period of years to compensate local individuals and businesses affected detrimentally by the spill, which has been described as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

According to Johnson's campaign website:
At a forum in Waukesha County on Monday, Ron Johnson reiterated his position regarding BP's negligence and responsibilities. "I think the bottom line is BP will be held accountable for this above the 75 million cap [the federal statute which imposes that damages limit is a separate issue]. And I think the fact they were willing to do it kinda shows they recognized the fact they were negligent."
If Johnson believes in the "fact" of BP's negligence, then why does he oppose what he also believes is BP's own demonstration of its negligence? (It isn't an admission of anything. That "it kinda shows" BP's negligence is only Johnson's personal interpretation.)

What Johnson ultimately said about the escrow fund, which even Johnson admits BP was "willing" to set up, is: "This is not good for America." He suggested it was "a circumvention of the rule of law."

He didn't say which law, but the fund was negotiated between BP and White House officials. BP wasn't ordered to set it up. Far from being a circumvention, such negotiations are a typical feature of the rule of law as a means to avoid time-consuming and expensive litigation.

That is precisely the case here, as the fund is directed toward paying claims that can be made by application to the fund's administrator instead of filing in court. In fact it's likely to save BP millions in attorney expenses, probably one reason why the firm agreed to it.

[Additionally, it keeps the courts unclogged so they can concentrate instead on adjudicating — to coin a phrase — the rule of law.]

Johnson also predicted BP is "gonna be found to be negligent" based on an article he'd read in the Wall Street Journal describing two alternative methods of oil well design. Congressional Democrats said they discovered that BP used the less costly of the two methods more often than other oil companies and used it for the Macondo well.

But even Democrats stopped short of blaming BP's choice of well design for the spill, and the WSJ piece points out that "the well would have been secure if the cement plug at the bottom of the hole had held." The report presents only speculation that the alternative well design would have mitigated the effect of the cement plug's failure.

So it isn't clear which rule of law candidate Johnson is espousing and defending when he declares the "fact" of BP's negligence based on an obviously incomplete set of findings. Maybe Ron Johnson could try again to better explain to affected Gulf Coast residents why British Petroleum's $20 billion compensation fund is bad for America.

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