U.S. has been slapping BP's wrist for years

A former top EPA investigator explains how the U.S. government “taught BP that it can do whatever it wants and will not be held accountable”:

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about BP, we’re joined by a former top investigator at the Environmental Protection Agency. Up until his retirement in 2008, Scott West was a special agent in charge for the Criminal Investigation Division at the EPA.

In 2006, Scott West led an investigation of BP following a major oil pipeline leak in Alaska’s North Slope that spilled 250,000 gallons of oil on the Alaskan tundra. Before West finished his investigation, the Bush Justice Department reached a settlement with BP, and the oil company agreed to pay $20 million. At the same time, BP managed to avoid prosecution for the Texas City refinery explosion that killed fifteen workers by paying a $50 million settlement….

SCOTT WEST: …high-level management within BP, not only in the United States, but across the ocean and into London, were aware of the [BP] policies on the North Slope to forgo maintenance in exchange for saving money and that there was awareness at very high levels that this particular transit line was in jeopardy.

AMY GOODMAN: So you have the EPA considering penalties of upwards of… $672 million, possibly felony charges against BP executives, and they end up settling for $20 million?

SCOTT WEST: Yes, they ended up settling for $20 million…. When the Bush administration took over at the Department of Justice, and the US attorney came in, it was—became a bottom-of-the-barrel case and was ultimately settled out for a very low amount of money. And I have been talking with one of the investigators on that case, and he said the amount of money that was determined as the fine in that matched what the insurance companies were willing to pay. So Olympic Pipe Line essentially did not have to actually pay the fine, but it was covered by their insurance company. Now, that Olympic Pipe Line settlement became the benchmark, within the Bush Department of Justice, for environmental crime.

So then we had the Texas City explosion by BP that resulted in a number of deaths and injuries caused by failure to maintain the same sort of corporate practices that I saw in Alaska. And that case got wrapped up at the same time that mine did, and the settlement there, based upon the Olympic Pipe Line precedent, was set at $50 million. So they said, well, then, my spill case in Alaska could not get anywhere near that amount, because that had fatalities, and so they settled it for $20 million.

Now, for BP, $20 million is a rounding error, when you look at the amount of profits they make on a daily basis. It made no impact into changing their practices. The only thing that could really change the practices had been if we had been able to pursue and hold individuals accountable for their decisions. As you well know, the corporations do not make decisions; the individuals within them do. And so, to hold those individuals accountable would have been the proper conclusion to the investigation.

Now, now we’re seeing the same sort of thing in the Gulf, in this catastrophe. And information is coming to light that corners were cut and that employees’ concerns were being ignored. It’s the exact same pattern that we saw with BP in Alaska and with BP in Texas City….

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think if BP executives were brought up on charges that we would see what we’re seeing in the Gulf of Mexico today?

SCOTT WEST: Well, I doubt we would be having this discussion and we’d be dealing with a catastrophe like this in the Gulf. What the government has done over the past several years is taught BP that it can do whatever it wants and will not be held accountable.

Posted by James on Friday, May 21, 2010