Clean-Up Taxes and Kevin Costner
Today, Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones, Kevin Costner — actor of Dances with Wolves fame, favored heartthrob of my mum — took to the Hill to argue for additional funding for oil spill clean-up technologies. For the past 15 years, Costner has invested in a company that produces a machine that separates oil from water, now in use in the Gulf. Sheppard describes:
The contraption is best described as a portable, vacuum-like metal unit that spins the oil out of the water. They have five different models, the largest of which can separate 210,000 gallons of water and oil per day. The company says it leaves the water 99 percent clean. BP has run several tests on the technology since the leak began, and approved it for use last month. Since then, BP has placed an order for 32 machines, the company reports, and ten machines are already out working in the Gulf. Ocean Therapy Solutions CEO John W. Houghtaling said he believes that when all these are in use, they will be able to clean 6 million gallons of water per day. (It’s not clear how much of a dent this could put in the spill, the total volume of which has not been determined. And since much of the oil has been dispersed into the Gulf using chemicals, it may be harder to do much with Costner’s contraption). The company envisions hundreds of these mobile units deployed around the world, ready for the next spill wherever it may occur.
Costner noted that both the government and BP were utterly unprepared to deal with the massive oil spill, and that much more money needs to go into clean-up technologies. As I wrote a few weeks ago, taxing or regulating oil companies to divert much more funds into clean-up technology seems like one good solution:
New laws are coming. One option would be to address the negative externality of cleanup costs: taxing all oil companies and processors in the United States, and forcing them to use the funds to explore new technologies to be used in the event of a disaster. For even if BP had managed to prevent the Deepwater Horizon incident, another catastrophic oil spill would have happened somewhere else, sometime soon. The technologies used to contain and clean up oil remain rudimentary and highly ineffective, particularly those used at sea — top kill, bags of hair, faulty seals. (Of all the well shut-down methods I have seen, it is distressing that the Russians’ controlled nuclear explosion has seemed most promising.) The next conflagration will take light at some point. It would be useful to force the companies at fault to invent the fire hydrant before then.
How to structure the tax? I leave it to the public policy experts to figure that out. But I would imagine either requiring oil companies’ U.S. subsidiaries to spend one or two percent of profits on cleanup and prevention research, then allowing them to license or sell their products to one another; or taxing the oil companies’ U.S. subsidiaries, putting the funds into a pool and having the government disburse the money to vetted research organizations.