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Harry R. Weber the Associated Press
Published: 09 November 2010

NEW ORLEANS – Critics of a presidential commission's preliminary findings that largely supported BP's internal probe of the Gulf oil spill questioned Monday how anyone could suggest money wasn't put ahead of safety in the days before the disaster.

"Why cut corners if it is not for money?" said Billy Nungesser, the president of oil-soaked Plaquemines Parish, La.

Nungesser also challenged the statement from the commission's chief investigator, who said he agreed with about 90 percent of what BP said in its internal report released in early September.

"I really feel for the families of these 11 victims," Nungesser said. "Here they are hoping and praying that their loved ones lost would set some fundamental change and protection so things would be different. If we are gonna not be honest with everybody, including the American public, about what happened and why — then these people died in vain."

Daniel Becnel, a Louisiana lawyer suing BP and others over the oil spill, said the commission's findings about money not being a factor are "absolutely absurd."

"The reason is it so absurd is because BP is known to paste over safety, especially if it involved money and downtime," Becnel said. "They couldn't afford any more downtime on that rig."

According to testimony before a joint U.S. Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement panel, the Macondo well project was nearly $60 million over budget days before the explosion. That panel has been paying particular attention to the issue of whether money was put ahead of safety.

"They are pasting over because they know the government is going to be a defendant sooner or later in this litigation," Becnel said.

In preliminary findings issued Monday, the first from an independent panel, investigators from the presidential commission supported many of BP's own conclusions about what led to the disaster.

The panel's chief investigator, Fred H. Bartlit Jr., announced 13 principal findings, many of which seemed to track with investigations of the blowout, including BP's.

Under commission procedures, Bartlit presented the findings to the seven-member panel. A report is due with President Barack Obama in mid-January.

Lawyers James P. Roy and Stephen J. Herman, who serve on a plaintiffs committee appointed by the court to help steer the many suits against BP and other companies, said in a statement that every time there was a decision to be made regarding the well's operation, "BP, Halliburton and Transocean routinely chose 'quick and cheap' over 'safe and prudent.'"

"The tragic result, for which BP, Halliburton and Transocean must be held fully accountable, is 11 dead, a region's economy and ecosystem in shambles - and rogue corporations continuing to place profits over safety," the lawyers said.

Democrats in Congress also were weighing in on the presidential commission's comments on Monday.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, a member of a congressional panel investigating the spill, questioned the findings.

"When the culture of a company favors risk-taking and cutting corners above other concerns, systemic failures like this oil spill disaster result without direct decisions being made or tradeoffs being considered," Markey, D-Mass., said. "What is fully evident, from BP's pipeline spill in Alaska and the Texas city refinery disaster, to the Deepwater Horizon well failure, is that BP has a long and sordid history of cutting costs and pushing the limits in search of higher profits."

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