If BP qualifies for $10 billion cleanup tax break, should it get one?
BP says it will seek a $9.9 billion tax write-off based on the $32 billion it expects to spend on Gulf oil spill cleanup and recovery. One US senator is already calling for hearings to prevent it.
(Page 2 of 2)
Tax law is written so that companies can spread tax liabilities out over time, a necessity in what can be a volatile market.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"If BP really loses the $32 billion, of course the normal rule is (and should be) that it gets a deduction, including with carryovers to other taxable years if necessary," writes University of Cincinnati law professor Paul Caron in a blog post. "So the issue, at least on its face, is a red herring."
But one government watchdog group, the nonpartisan Public Citizen, suggests that the write-off issue shows a failure of leadership from the White House.
"The administration wanted to score some quick political points by setting up the escrow account and saying … that the administration is in charge here," says Tyson Slocum, an energy sector expert with Public Citizen. "[The deal seems] flimsy as heck and BP now gets to write off a third of the relief effort. If it turns out that this was a mistake or if the administration allowed this to happen … that's a big deal."
Last week, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs insisted American taxpayers would not be on the hook for any spill cleanup costs. "I don't think anybody would prefer that [BP claims a tax credit]," Gibbs told reporters.
Mr. Buchanan, the political scientist, says that Obama does have a final out: The promise made was that the $20 billion is not a capped amount.
"A lot depends on what happens next and how much air time these complaints get," he says. "I wouldn't venture a guess as to whether Obama will address the tax write-off, and he always has the fallback of insisting that the old deal isn't closed until everyone is compensated, and that making taxpayers cover part of it does not constitute adequate compensation."
The main problem is that no one knows the details of the original deal, says Mr. Slocum at Public Citizen.
Meanwhile, Mr. Feinberg told the Mobile, Ala., Press-Register last week that he's ready to start processing claims from the fund, but couldn't start because "I don't want the checks to bounce." BP has until September to deposit the money. To date, BP has paid out $300 million under a BP-run claims process.
The uncertainty around the fund has many Gulf Coast residents worried. One lawsuit filed on behalf of spill victims in New Orleans demands that the full details of the compensation plan be put in writing so it can be exposed to public scrutiny.