Audit Notes: Study Hall, BP’s Skimpy Skimmers, “Resource Extraction”

How wimpy is the financial-reform legislation?’s Jennifer Liberto writes that Congress is passing the buck to regulators to do their own studies and come up with rules:

Instead of toughening up ethical and marketing standards for financial planners, Congress studies the issue in the financial overhaul bill. Instead of making it easier to sue lawyers, accountants and bankers who help commit securities fraud, Congress studies the issue.

The bill also studies, among other things: short selling, reverse mortgages, improved insurance regulation, private student loans, oversight of carbon markets and the “feasibility of requiring use of standardized algorithmic descriptions for financial derivatives.”

There are sixty-eight studies that will be commissioned if the bill passes. Don’t expect much:

Congress had been considering measures to force brokers to act in the best interests of their clients when giving investment advice.

Different financial industry groups, ranging from investment firms to life insurers, tried to kill it all together. But it ended up as the subject of a six-month study, with a mandatory follow-up to carry out the recommendations.

“That study was a save,” said Ed Mierzwinski, national consumer program director at Public Interest Research Groups. “But, the general theme of studies is to delay or kill — it’s a strategy taught on K Street,” the Washington thoroughfare synonymous with lobbying.

— How bad did BP overplay its ability to corral an oil spill in the Gulf? Very, very badly, reports Kimberly Kindy of the Washington Post:

In the 77 days since oil from the ruptured Deepwater Horizon began to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, BP has skimmed or burned about 60 percent of the amount it promised regulators it could remove in a single day.

The disparity between what BP promised in its March 24 filing with federal regulators and the amount of oil recovered since the April 20 explosion underscores what some officials and environmental groups call a misleading numbers game that has led to widespread confusion about the extent of the spill and the progress of the recovery…

In a March report that was not questioned by federal officials, BP said it had the capacity to skim and remove 491,721 barrels of oil each day in the event of a major spill.

As of Monday, with about 2 million barrels released into the gulf, the skimming operations that were touted as key to preventing environmental disaster have averaged less than 900 barrels a day.

— Mike Konczal points out that the U.S. now invests more capital in mining operations (think: oil and gas) as it does in manufacturing ones.

That’s a dramatic change from just a decade ago:

If you were to take a completely random day, say December 11th, 2000, the day before Bush v. Gore was decided, you would note that we spend something like 5 times as much on manufacturing than mining.

Heck of an economy we’ve got here.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.