By Javier Palomarez
If decision makers in Washington finally put policy ahead of politics, 2014 is poised to be a transformative year for our nation’s economy. With 2013 now in our collective rearview mirror, voters and stakeholders alike are looking to the public and private sectors, in hopes they can work together to find novel solutions to preventable problems.
To make 2014 a true watershed moment for the American economy, successful pro-business policies must be replicated. Rather than obstruct, the government should enable collaboration between corporate entities and small businesses – a model that has spurred innovation, economic development, growth, and job creation in recent years.
Unfortunately, the current federal suspension and debarment of BP from entering federal contracts severely threatens this proven business model. Following its guilty plea to violations related to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, BP and its affiliates were suspended for an indefinite period by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
BP’s small business partners – the true engines of job creation in America – were negatively impacted when the EPA extended the suspension, added new affiliates, and proposed that all of the suspended companies be debarred. In turn, the region’s small business community has been struggling ever since. There are several key indicators, confirmed by regional data and studies, which suggest it is time for relevant federal agencies to reexamine this suspension.
While it would be wrong to turn a blind eye or deaf ear to the negative environmental effects caused by the spill, it is equally imprudent to ignore BP’s substantial efforts to rectify the situation. In total, the company has paid $26 billion in government claims and clean-up, committed $1 billion to restoration, and has committed $500 million for independent scientific research over the next decade. These efforts play a crucial role in revitalizing small, medium, and large-sized firms that deliver a wide variety of services in key industries. By 2011, both tourism and commercial fishing outpaced pre-spill levels, which helped restore and bolster the region’s economy. In fact, tourism records set in 2011 were broken again in 2012, as visitors from across the country and around the world flocked to the Gulf’s beaches. Today, BP is committing $179 million to further bolster tourism in Gulf states, as well as $57 million to non-profits focusing on tourism and related industries. What happened in 2010 was tragic, but the extended federal suspension of BP and its affiliates only detriments the Gulf’s small business community, at a time when they can least afford it.
The good news is that these local businesses and communities are coming back stronger than ever, and America’s energy future appears bright. In recent years, the U.S. has become increasingly independent of foreign oil. In fact, America is less reliant on oil imports than any time since 1993 – a groundbreaking milestone, born out of synchronized effort between government and business. The truth is, without BP, the second largest producer of oil and gas in our country, this accomplishment – replete with implications on our economic prosperity and national security – would not be possible.
BP is America’s largest investor in energy. Over the past five years alone, BP has invested over $55 billion in energy exploration, production, and technology in the United States. This substantial investment not only produces the energy that is critical for any business’s operations, but also supports more than a quarter million, well-paying, American jobs.
Through key investments in diversity and inclusion programs, BP is tapping into America’s most abundant and high-yielding resource: minority-owned businesses. In 2012 alone, BP contributed over $100 million dollars to Hispanic-owned businesses, and continues to spend tens of millions of dollars with America’s fastest growing entrepreneurial segment, each year. Through these initiatives, BP is fueling the engines that drive our nation’s resurgent economy.
As the White House and Congress posture and strategize for this year’s midterm elections, voters are deciding whether or not those assigned to Washington have what it takes to solve the nation’s economic problems. Given all that is at stake, all avenues to greater economic growth must be explored.
Above all else, 2014 is a make or break moment for the White House administration, Congress, and our recovering economy. We can either move forward with a restored sense of confidence in the problem solving abilities of Washington, or force the private sector to shoulder the weight of the economy on its own in the face of continued political inaction. Last month’s bipartisan budget deal demonstrates that decision makers can set aside their differences in order to promote a healthier and more vibrant American economy. Now, with too much at stake, small and big businesses alike are hoping for the same spirit of cooperation from the EPA.
Palomarez is the president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.