Tuesday, October 25, 2005

James Baker To Head BP Explosion Panel

More events resulting from the catastrophic explosion at BP Texas City last March that killed 15 workers and injured 170.

First, in response to a recent "urgent recommendation" from the Chemical Safety Board, BP yesterday announced the composition of its independent panel that will review a range of safety management and culture issues in its North American operations.

The panel will be headed by former Secretary of State James Baker III -- yes, the same James Baker who likes to boast "I fixed the election in Florida for George Bush." The rest of the panel is composed of industry experts, public service officials, as well as a representative of the United Steelworkers, the union that represents workers at the plant. Despite Baker, the union member on the board along with a few truly independent experts should ensure that "uncomfortable" issues are addressed by the panel in a public forum.

As Baker's lawfirm has in the past done work for BP, Baker is attempting to shield himself from any hint of conflict of interest
Both the Houston law firm and public policy institute that bear Baker's name have financial ties to BP, and Baker and his wife, Susan, sold 675 shares of BP stock as he agreed to oversee the panel.

Baker, a senior partner at the Baker Botts law firm founded by his grandfather, was White House chief of staff and treasury secretary in the Reagan administration and secretary of state in the first Bush administration.

Baker Botts has represented BP, accounting for less than 1 percent of the firm's revenues over the past five years, the law firm said. It also noted that Baker has not been personally involved in any BP legal matters.

Baker is also honorary chairman of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, but takes no salary for his role. The institute has received $215,000 since 1993 for its charitable activities from BP and Amoco, which merged in 1998.
Despite these actions, Baker sounded a tad defensive about defending his reputation (assuming he still has a reputation left to preserve after Florida and other escapades.)
"I'm determined that this is going to be a transparent operation," Baker said Monday. "Anybody that thinks that I would jeopardize a public service career, such as I have had ... to go in the tank for something like this, I don't think they understand how important one's reputation is."
Yeah, yeah. Sorry Jimbo, you can whine and cry and protest, but you can't get your virginity back again.

Other panel participants are less controversial, although one wonders what expertise some have to sit on the panel. They include: Retired Admiral Skip Bowman, former Director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion; Slade Gorton, former Senator and member of the 9/11 Commission; Dennis Hendershot, a chemical engineer who has more than 30 years of experience in chemical process research and development; Dr. Nancy Leveson, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Professor of Engineering Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.); Ms. Sharon Priest, the first woman elected as Arkansas Secretary of State, and former president of the National Association for Secretaries of State (and her qualifications would be....?); Dr. Isadore “Irv” Rosenthal, a former board member of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board; Dr. Paul V. Tebo, a retired Dupont vice president; Dr. Douglas Wiegmann, a senior associate consultant and clinical research scholar within the Division of Cardiovascular Surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, an expert in the field of human factor analysis and a former investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board; and Duane Wilson, a retired vice president, Refining, Marketing, Supply and Transportation-Fuels Technology for ConocoPhillips. Each member will receive $100,000.

Last month, OSHA fined the company $21.3 million for the accident. BP, which blamed the accident on "management failures and employee mistakes," plans to issue its own final report on the explosion by next month. The independent panel has been asked to complete its work within a year and to make its recommendations public.

More BP stories here.