Robert Reich says the feds need to take over:
It's time for the federal government to put BP under temporary receivership, which gives the government authority to take over BP's operations in the Gulf of Mexico until the gusher is stopped. This is the only way the public will know what's going on, be confident enough resources are being put to stopping the gusher, ensure BP's strategy is correct, know the government has enough clout to force BP to use a different one if necessary, and be sure the president is ultimately in charge.
If the government can take over giant global insurer AIG and the auto giant General Motors and replace their CEOs, in order to keep them financially solvent, it should be able to put BP's north American operations into temporary receivership in order to stop one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.
The Obama administration keeps saying BP is in charge because BP has the equipment and expertise necessary to do what's necessary. But under temporary receivership, BP would continue to have the equipment and expertise. The only difference: the firm would unambiguously be working in the public's interest. As it is now, BP continues to be responsible primarily to its shareholders, not to the American public. As a result, the public continues to worry that a private for-profit corporation is responsible for stopping a public tragedy.
[...] Expressing grave concerns is not enough. The President needs legal authority to order BP to protect the United States.
The President is not legally in charge. As long as BP is not under the direct control of the government he has no direct line of authority, and responsibility is totally confused. For example, listen for the "we" and "they" pronouns that were used by Carol Browner in response to a question on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday (emphasis added): "We're now going to move into a situation where they're going to attempt to control the oil that's coming out, move it to a vessel, take it onshore ....We always knew that the relief well was the permanent way to close this .... Now we move to the third option, which is to contain it. If [the new cap on the relief well is] a snug fit, then there could be very, very little oil. If they're not able to get as snug a fit, then there could be more. We're going to hope for the best and prepare for the worst."
When you get pronoun confusion like this, you can bet on confusion -- both inside the Administration and among the public. There is no good reason why "they" are in charge of an operation of which "we" are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.
The president should temporarily take over BP's Gulf operations. We have a national emergency on our hands. No president would allow a nuclear reactor owned by a private for-profit company to melt down in the United States while remaining under the direct control of that company. The meltdown in the Gulf is the environmental equivalent.