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USF Teach-In Explores Impact of BP Oil Spill

November 09, 2010

The University of San Francisco School of Law and the College of Arts and Sciences organized the Nov. 1 teach-in “BP, the Gulf, and Beyond: Environmental and Human Costs of the Gulf Oil Disaster.”

The teach-in explored the environmental impacts of the oil spill and its impact on energy and climate policy.

“Today we focus on the BP oil spill—a needless tragedy brought on by…stunning corporate negligence,” Dean Jeffrey Brand said during his opening comments. “My belief is that a generation of students schooled in the values we nurture at USF will make it possible to avoid tragedies like the BP oil spill. In the end, our task today is about more than examining the spill and its consequences—it is about dedicating ourselves to a mission capable of doing so much good for the world.”

Professor Alice Kaswan, one of the event’s organizers, moderated the panel “The BP Oil ‘Spill’ and the Law,” which examined regulatory failures, agency oversight, and liability and damages.

“The other side of the legal question—now that (the oil spill) has happened—is how do we hold those responsible accountable and how do we compensate the victims,” Kaswan said.

Panelists included Devorah Ancel, an environmental law fellow at the Sierra Club; Cymie Payne, distinguished environmental law scholar at Lewis & Clark Law School; and USF Professor of Law Peter Jan Honigsberg, who addressed conflicts of interest faced by the offshore drilling regulating agency Mineral Management Service (MMS).

MMS, created during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, was responsible for both collecting revenue and regulatory oversight. Honigsberg said that the agency’s combined responsibilities could have increased the risk of the spill, noting the agency’s motivation to collect revenue regardless of environmental consequences.

“MMS was the second largest collector of income in the country,” he said.

Since the oil spill, the MMS has been renamed to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement and split into three divisions. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is responsible for oversight of resource evaluation, permitting and leasing, and environmental considerations. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement will enforce safety regulations in offshore drilling. The Office of Natural Resources Revenue collects revenue, operating separately from the bureaus in charge of environmental and safety oversight.