Last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was an environmental and economic disaster. But it also turned out to be an economic windfall for many shamelessly opportunistic public officials, who used millions of dollars in BP compensation to buy new vehicles, computers and other toys. This sort of exploitation of a tragic event makes it that much harder for local governments and businesses with legitimate needs to win damage awards.
An Associated Press analysis of where $550 million in BP's money went revealed many Gulf Coast public officials embarked on a reckless spending spree having little to do with rebuilding their communities devastated by the Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill. With $1.4 million in BP money, officials in Biloxi, Miss., purchased 14 sport utility vehicles, including a gas-guzzling Chevy Tahoe for the mayor. In Gulfport, Miss., the city bought a $300,000 vacuum truck that has yet to suck up a single drop of spilled oil. And in Florida's Okaloosa County, $560,000 was blown on promoting rock concerts. Elsewhere, iPads, computers and other goodies were paid for with BP funds. It appears a very good time was had by many while others were suffering.
The AP investigation showed while $400 million was spent on legitimate, oil-related cleanup costs, as much as $150 million was wasted on needless perks and political cronies. The environmental disaster was bad enough. Now there is a crisis of confidence in many public officials charged with cleaning it up. They ought to be required to sell their vehicles and computers and give the money to legitimate cleanup efforts.