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Create an Independent Commission to Investigate the BP Disaster

The BP disaster is unprecedented in the United States. We cannot predict the full scope of public health, economic, or environmental damages until BP is able to halt the flood of oil. But the horrible environmental calamity has claimed 11 lives and contaminated the water with millions of gallons of oil. The best-case scenario at this point is that oil will continue to flood from the ocean floor for another week until BP is able to cap the well. If that effort fails, it could be several months before BP is able to drill another well to capture the oil currently fouling the Gulf Coast waters.

The federal government can look to past administrations for guidance in understanding the causes of this devastating situation and taking measures to minimize future occurrences. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan—after the Three Mile Island near-nuclear meltdown and the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion, respectively—appointed independent commissions of high-profile public officials and experts to thoroughly investigate the causes of these events and make recommendations to prevent future tragedies. President Barack Obama should follow their lead by appointing an independent commission to completely examine the causes of the BP disaster and offer guidance for how we can make sure it never happens again.

An independent commission investigating the BP disaster should have subpoena power and conduct public hearings. The TMI and NASA commissions had six months and four months, respectively, to conduct their investigation and issue their reports. The BP disaster commission should similarly also have a limited period of time and the authority to conduct a thorough review.

The Obama administration swiftly responded to the BP disaster from day one and mobilized the U.S. government’s resources to attempt to minimize the harm from this unprecedented event on the health, economy, and environment of the Gulf Coast. President Obama should now ensure complete scrutiny of the explosion and its aftermath by appointing an independent commission to assess the causes and damages and make recommendations to prevent future tragedies.

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