Even Spill Won’t Convince Tea Partiers

As the Democrats are expected to use BP’s oil spill to push for stricter regulation of business in the United States, left-wing commentators are wondering why even the disaster in the Gulf won’t convince small-government conservatives.

The Obama Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — which rarely urges passage of specific legislation — both favor the reinstatement of a “Superfund” tax for oil companies, the returns of which should be allocated to a cleanup trust fund. Such a fund existed until Congress refused to renew the Superfund tax in 1995.

The move is likely to spark intense debate on Capitol Hill with Democrats lining up against oil companies and chemical manufacturers. The latter complain that a new tax would be an unfair penalty, harming the whole of the industry for the mistakes of one of their own. Proponents argue that the real question is who will pay for the cleanup effort. As Mathy Stanislaus of the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response put it, “Should it be the taxpayer, who has no responsibility for contaminating the sites, or should it be those individuals who create hazardous substances that contaminate the site?”

Suggesting such a false choice seems reminiscent of the rhetoric deployed by Democrats throughout the past two years, both when they tried to pass their health-care legislation and while attempting to enact financial reform. President Barack Obama repeatedly told people that the choice was between health insurance companies and common people while Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi once urged lawmakers to consider whether they were “with America’s families or with the credit card companies and the banks.” Her office now describes the proposed reinstatement of the Superfund measure as a “polluters tax.”

Commentators on the left are startled that in spite of the oil spill currently wreaking havoc in the Gulf of Mexico, the popular anti-government movement that is the Tea Party still condemns pervasive regulation of private business.

Congressman Joe Barton of Texas publicly apologized to BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward for what he called a “shakedown,” referring to the White House’s demand that the oil company put aside $20 billion in escrow to compensate victims of the spill. Conservative talk show host Mark Williams, chairman of California’s Tea Party Express, described it as “extortion” and behavior worthy of mobsters. Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul of Kentucky said Friday that he was disturbed by the president’s promise to find out “whose ass to kick.” Paul recommended Obama to take a hard look in the mirror. “This crisis has been a case study in failure to lead, failure to act, and using a crisis to advance your own agenda rather than solve the problem,” he opined.

Even in the Gulf states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, some say that they aren’t angry at BP. “I think BP is being extremely generous and they should be commended for that. They’re going above and beyond, as far as I’m concerned,” said retired civil servant and Tea Party organizer Charlie Purchner of Long Beach, Mississippi. The state’s Republican governor, Haley Barbour, believes that making BP set aside $5 billion a year over four years could hurt the company and, ultimately, the coastal residents and businesses who are supposed to be compensated for their losses. “If they take a huge amount of money and put it in an escrow account so they can’t use it to drill oil wells and produce revenue, are they going to be able to pay us?” he wondered.

Small government conservatives aren’t alone. Governor Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming, a Democratic and early Obama supporter, has expressed concern that the oil spill might prompt an overreaction from federal regulators. Wyoming is among the top states in natural gas and oil production and leads in coal production.

The administration takes a very different view and doesn’t seem to understand why people continue to oppose “big government” even in the face of an unprecedented environmental calamity. Appearing on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanual alleged that Republicans see BP as the aggrieved party under the circumstances, not fishermen. “They think that the government’s the problem,” he exclaimed in disbelief.