A suggestion on how to ensure BP pays for oil spill

Published 2:04 pm Friday, May 7, 2010

BP, or British Petroleum, obviously wants to limit its liability and how much it has to pay for damages incurred by the massive oil spill it caused in the Gulf of Mexico.

The company obviously expects the bill passed after the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska will limit its damages to $75 million. I sincerely hope not.

Several senators and congressmen have introduced legislation to expand that limit, but I don’t think even expanding it to the $10 billion figure some have proposed is adequate. Damages are still being found from the Exxon Valdez disaster and that oil company has turned its back on the spill and gone on to even greater profitability as the victims of its carelessness continue to struggle.

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My suggestion is not to cap BP’s liability, but to cap its profitability for the next 100 years or until the complete recovery from the disaster, which ever comes first.

By this I mean that every bit of profit that BP makes for that future period of time exceeding two-thirds of its profitability for the year preceding the disaster will go to cleaning up the disaster and making whole those people and businesses who have suffered from the spill.

Further, BP will not be allowed to do the accounting to arrive at what its profits would be and then subtract the appropriate amount from that profit figure. Nor would the company be allowed to hire or in any way influence who does the accounting, nor would anybody else associated with the oil or minerals business. The accounting would be done by an independent group agreed on by Congress, the president, major national environmental organizations such as the National Wildlife Federation, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Sierra Club and the Federation of Flyfishers and by Gulf of Mexico fisheries business interests, including charter boat captains, shrimpers, oyster men and the like.

The oil people would, and should, be frozen out of the accounting for profitability and liability altogether because their only concern is their own greed and not the survival of the environment or any ecological system, and they obviously don’t want to fully admit the responsibility for their actions.

Further, I think the CEO and other major executives with BP and members of its board of directors should face the same hardships as the fishermen, shrimpers, oyster men and others whose lives depend on the Gulf of Mexico and its seafood.

By that I mean they should be stripped of all their wealth, homes and belongings just as if their livelihoods were as precarious as those of the people whose livelihoods they are destroying. Their wealth and the income from selling their houses, cars, yachts and other trappings of wealth would go to help those whose livelihoods they have so carelessly damaged or destroyed.

You think that is too harsh? Imagine this conversation between a fisherman and his wife and another between an oil executive and his wife following this catastrophe. Of course, we are assuming that the executive may actually have his livelihood affected at least slightly by this event, at least until the spotlight of the press goes away.

Fisherman to wife: “We’re going to lose the boat and everything because the oil has killed all the fish or driven them away. I have no way left to make a living. We’re going to have to sell the car and my pickup, too. I guess I can get that old rust bucket running that I kept in the shed because it was my first truck when I was a kid. I don’t know where we’re going to live, though. The kids and all our kinfolks are in the same boat. I just don’t know what we’re all going to do.”

Executive to wife: “This damned spill means I’m going to have to take that ‘golden parachute’ and retire, at least for a while. I guess we will have to move to some small island in the Caribbean to get away from the press. Oh, we’re going to have to give up the Rolls and replace it with one of these cheap Mercedes. These fishermen and all are so unreasonable that we just have a real public relations disaster here, not that it really means anything important, except we lost a lot of oil and are going to have to replace that damned expensive oil rig.”

Actually, when all the press have left and no one is looking, I strongly suspect the executives will come roaring back to even greater wealth as their victims continue to struggle, just as have all the people whose lives and livelihoods were destroyed by the Exxon Valdez disaster, and so many other such disasters brought on by giant corporations, from the current financial crisis to the mine explosion to this oil rig explosion and spill.

The old joke that the “rich get richer while the poor get poorer” is no joke.

We need to find a way to make this company and its executives pay, really pay, for what they have wrought, if only to send a message to all giant corporations and their executives. Only then may the corporations and executives take their responsibilities seriously and take the appropriate actions to avoid such catastrophes.