Oil Execs Should Be Charged With Criminal Negligence

There are those who endanger the people of the civilized world because of ideology or religion; and there are those who are just as dangerous because of greed.

Big Oil executives belong to the second group. Yet, the international oil companies are coddled by the U.S.  – showered with tax breaks and subsidies despite their long record of dangerous practices and obscene profits.

Even President Obama, who as a candidate promised to free Americans from “the tyranny of oil,”  recently supported expansion of offshore drilling and is defending the hazardous practice in the face of the ongoing devastation in the Gulf of Mexico.

Of course, I don’t have to remind you that Big Oil is a gusher when it comes to campaign contributions, and the industry has bought itself an enormous amount of influence in Washington over the years.

But now some American politicians are making baby steps toward reining in this powerful group.

Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, both Democrats, are introducing legislation to make sure British Petroleum and its associates aren’t let off the hook on economic damages resulting from the Gulf disaster.

Under the Oil Pollution Act, BP is responsible for all cleanup costs. But  the liability limit for economic damages (such as lost business revenues from fishing and tourism, natural resources damages or lost local tax revenues) resulting from oil spills is capped at $75 million.

The proposed legislation, which is backed by the White House, would raise the cap to $10 billion. And the change would be made retroactive so it can apply to the huge spill triggered by the deadly oil rig explosion off the Louisiana coast on April 20.

In a meeting with Senator Nelson, BP CEO Tony Hayward “conceded that damages from this spill will exceed the $75 million cap in current law,” Senator Nelson said in an email I received today. “And he left open the strong possibility there will be legal disputes over who is responsible. Is it BP? Transocean? The manufacturer of the blowout prevention device? Halliburton?”

How about “all of the above”?

There is ample evidence that BP and the rest of the greedy gang of oil explorers knew of the risks they were taking when they skipped safety measures and ignored previous experiences to cut costs. They should all be charged with criminal negligence.

In my view, they’re guilty of much worse. I would put them in the same class as terrorists.