Year 3, Month 1, Day 2: And They DEFINITELY Shouldn’t Be Allowed To Get Married!

Looks like some underlings are gonna feel some heat:

U.S. prosecutors are preparing what would be the first criminal charges against BP PLC employees stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident, which killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, said people familiar with the matter.

Prosecutors are focused on several Houston-based engineers and at least one of their supervisors at the British oil company, though the breadth of the investigation isn’t known. The prosecutors assert the employees may have provided false information to regulators about the risks associated with the Gulf of Mexico well while its drilling was in progress, these people said.

As the bumper sticker says, I’ll believe corporations are people when I see Texas execute one. Sent December 29:

Now that the Citizens United decision has helped establish corporate personhood as part of America’s legal fabric, we should all be asking questions about what happens when corporations break the law. Given the conservative/libertarian mantra of “individual responsibility,” one would expect “persons” like British Petroleum to be held fully responsible for their misdeeds.

An individual who, through gross incompetence, destroyed vast swaths of ocean habitat, killed thousands upon thousands of living things, and wiped out local economies would be rightly treated as a criminal. The available evidence suggests that BP’s malfeasance extends all the way up the corporate ladder, with safety and environmental concerns systemically neglected in an all-consuming rush for greater profits.

What BP did to the Gulf of Mexico, the fossil fuel industry as a whole is doing to Earth’s atmosphere. It is time for these corporate “persons” to be indicted and tried for their criminally negligent behavior.

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 21: Lies and Lying Liars…

Well, this one pretty much wrote itself. BP’s British stockholders are claiming the company misrepresented its safety record to them, thereby artificially inflating the value of its stock (well, duh!)….and they are threatening legal action. IIRC, this is the first time I’ve written to a UK newspaper. It’s a little long, but it has a classical allusion and some rather archly constructed sentences. I forgot to change the spelling of “behavior” before I sent it off. Ah, well.

It comes as no surprise that British Petroleum is accused of misleading its stockholders by misrepresenting its safety record. We already know that BP misrepresented its safety record to the U.S. Government and to the general public. Why should the company’s own investors be treated any differently? Looking at the behavior of oil companies in general (and BP in particular) it is increasingly evident that oil is dirty in more than the physical sense. It appears to engender both corporate and individual behaviour that could accurately be described as sociopathic. BP’s malfeasance is only the most recent and grotesque example; a few moments’ search turns up an appalling roster of inexcusable acts committed by major oil companies, often in parts of the world with inadequate legal and logistical mechanisms for dealing with the consequences of environmental criminality. Even if climate change were not a Damoclean sword over our heads, the unique combination of malignity and incompetence that has characterized Big Oil’s collective actions over the past half a century should be a more than adequate reason for us all to end our dependence on fossil fuels. Why give money to a rude, destructive, irresponsible boor?

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 19: Saturday POTUS

I had finished writing this last night, but hadn’t had time to tag it. Then my wife and daughter called from India and I put it away for the morrow. In this letter I’m combining current events with some old exhortations. How I wish James Hansen was wrong. How I fear that he’s right.

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on securing British Petroleum’s commitment to set aside twenty billion dollars in escrow. Given how long it usually takes the victims of corporate negligence to have their day in court, this is a tremendous accomplishment.

The behavior of BP and its contract partners has been appallingly irresponsible. But while it’s easy to blame the oil companies, we need to do more. As you correctly pointed out in your oval office address, our nation (and, indeed, the world) needs to end our addiction to fossil fuels.

We’re going to run out of them, sooner rather than later. Often the money we spend on them goes to countries that regard us as enemies. These are good enough reasons. But the real reason for us to stop burning oil and coal is the enormous damage inflicted on the planetary biosphere by increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It is crucial for humanity’s survival and well-being in the centuries to come that our levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide be brought below 350 parts per million, as noted by Dr. James Hansen, the climatologist whose work was silenced by the Bush administration (surely a piece of irresponsibility that can rank with British Petroleum).

Your administration will be remembered with gratitude by generations yet unborn if you can start this process. The window of opportunity is rapidly closing; the environment is going through an increasing cascade of “tipping points,” each one of which makes recovery to a hospitable climate more difficult.

Right now Dr. Hansen is on record as saying “Obama doesn’t get it.” He thinks you don’t take the likelihood of a climate catastrophe seriously.

I think it’s time for you to prove him wrong.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 15: Don’t Get Mad, Get Madder!

I have a houseguest & I’m really tired. I just opened up this piece on Daily Kos, read it, got outraged, and wrote Ed Markey and Henry Waxman a letter asking them to get a little tougher on the gang of criminals who are obviously in charge of British Petroleum.

You should read that piece, too. It’ll make you mad. Maybe you should get mad — and write a letter to someone!

Dear Representatives Markey and Waxman,

We need to understand a few things about what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico right now. It is absolutely crucial that congressional hearings bring up some of the following questions:

1. Why is British Petroleum apparently giving orders to the Coast Guard — and why is the Coast Guard taking orders from BP? A recent CBS News clip documented an incident of local television journalists being turned away from taking photographs of dead and dying sea life, saying: “A boat of BP Contractors, with 2 Coast Guard officials on board, told us turn around under threat of arrest — explaining ‘This is BP’s rules — it’s not ours’ ” In my naivete, I had the impression that the Coast Guard worked for the people of this country, not a British-owned oil company.

2. Why is BP failing to do genuine cleanup work in threatened areas? Booms have been put in place in wildlife protection areas, but no follow-up or monitoring has been instituted. The result? The only thing actually being contained is bad publicity for BP. The oil, meanwhile, is killing birds, sea turtles, fish and dolphins, and it’s only going to get worse. Frankly, we need more bad publicity for British Petroleum.

3. Why is BP making cleanup contractors sign agreements not to talk to the media? This company blatantly ignored safety regulations, gamed the system to its benefit for decades, and now (through its own negligence and carelessness) poised to wipe out both unique local ecologies and unique local economies. They should not be in a position to dictate terms to their contract employees.

Reporters from the New York Daily News interviewed BP contractors, who took them to locations where dolphin carcasses were dead and rotting. The contractor interviewed said, “When we found this dolphin it was filled with oil. Oil was just pouring out of it. It was the saddest darn thing to look at. There is a lot of cover-up for BP. They specifically informed us that they don’t want these pictures of the dead animals. They know the ocean will wipe away most of the evidence. It’s important to me that people know the truth about what’s going on here. The things I’ve seen… They just aren’t right. All the life out here is just full of oil.”

4. Why is BP unable to handle calls from Gulf area residents? Shortly after the Deepwater Horizon disaster happened, BP set up call centers to handle questions and concerns. But according to a Houston television station, they’ve over 200,000 phone calls have been received…but they go nowhere. People whose lives and communities are under terrible threat are made to think their messages are being formally documented when in fact they are not even written down by call center operators.

The overall impression of BP is one of a malicious and often criminal incompetence made possible by a feeble regulatory environment. While congressional hearings cannot get the oil back into the earth, they can be a big step towards ensuring that such a disastrous failure of regulation never happens again.

I’m hoping to see British Petroleum executives testifying under oath, with jail sentences available for any who are in contempt or who are proven to have perjured themselves. There is no need to be nice to these people; they’ve destroyed one of our country’s most important natural resources, and the full extent of the damage they’ve caused won’t be understood for years.

Their incompetence and criminality are yet another set of very good reasons to end our national dependence on oil; it makes these people wealthy and powerful, and they don’t deserve wealth or power — they deserve jail time.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 2: I Hope They Grind Exceeding Small

The Attorney General is going to the Gulf. String ’em high, Mr. Holder, string ’em high!

Dear Attorney General Holder,

I’m glad to learn that you’re looking into a possible criminal investigation of British Petroleum and the other companies which are partnered in the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig.  As you and your staff begin your investigation, please keep in mind that BP may reasonably be suspected of not acting in the public interest — something President Obama said last week.  To be sure, we need the company to continue mitigating the environmental damage it has caused, but it is terribly naive to think that this will be their primary concern.  BP’s principal focus will be on maximizing return to its shareholders and protecting its management — and these goals (while inherent in the capitalist system) emphatically do not serve the public in a time of crisis.

BP has been limiting media access to the devastation it has caused, making it more difficult for press and broadcast media to get a clear picture of the destruction of the Gulf Coast.  Furthermore, there are ample reasons to suspect the company of the possible manipulation and destruction of physical evidence. Their  response to the disaster has been conditioned by the requirements of public relations from the very beginning, and you should expect that they will continue to try to “game the system” as your investigation continues.

While no formal statement of guilt is possible from your office until the wheels of justice have turned, you and your staff need to keep in mind that British Petroleum has displayed criminal irresponsibility toward the needs of environmental protection for years.  Do not trust these people; they are not America’s friends.

The fact that BP continues to control clean-up efforts and mitigation processes is tainted by the likelihood that they have been attempting to limit the visible damage, thereby reducing the likelihood of significant penalties.

Because BP has practical authority over the people of the Coast who are involved in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, they can now intimidate witnesses and workers, conceal damage, and stall investigations.  As long as the company is considered essential by the government, there is a strong likelihood that your investigation will be forced to compromise.  This cannot be allowed to happen.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 31: Too Tired To Write A Clever Headline

Hadn’t written to USA Today in a while, so I went over there and found an AP article on (surprise!) BP’s incompetence, which by now calls to mind a phrase from Ken Weaver’s Texas Crude: “Dick-fingered,” defined as “stupid with an undercurrent of malice” — or, put crudely, “what he can’t fuck up, he shits on.”

So I wrote ’em a letter.

Is anyone surprised that BP CEO Tony Hayward disputes scientific evidence of undersea oil plumes, or that he cites a study by his own company while refusing to disclose any details? It is by now glaringly obvious that British Petroleum had no workable contingency plan in the event of a catastrophic failure. Not one. Nada. Zip. Which raises the question: why entrust our nation’s energy future to a company that rewards incompetence?

In 1962, President Kennedy gave us a goal: put a man on the moon and bring him back safely, and seven years later Neil Armstrong’s small step became a giant leap for the world. It’s time for another giant leap: we need to get off fossil fuels entirely, and it needs to happen by 2030. The probability of more catastrophic spills and the certainty of devastating climate change starkly illustrate the necessity of ending our reliance on oil and coal.

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 28: Looking The Other Way

FishOutOfWater has his usual mind-bendingly scary diary at Dkos. That motivated me to sit down, but what came out was a response to a New York Times article from a couple of days ago. It’s more in my “Oil and Coal Reward Evil, Stupidity and Irresponsibility” series. I will write something on the Arctic, perhaps tomorrow.

We learn once again that there were warning signs of the impending disaster on the Deepwater Horizon, but that they were ignored. This should surprise no one; the oil and coal industries have had a lot of experience ignoring the signs of impending disasters. The siren call of quick profit drowns out the voices of caution, care and conscience, leaving our nation’s energy economy under the control of forces motivated entirely by profit, unhindered by any sense of responsibility to the greater good. British Petroleum’s behavior has been shameful, yes — but the entire fossil energy sector has a history of rewarding shameful, callous and irresponsible behavior. If ecocidal oil spills, coal mine explosions, and terrifying increases in world temperature levels can’t persuade us to kick our fossil fuel addiction, then we too are ignoring the signs of a planetary emergency that will make the Gulf spill seem small.

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 27: A Pair of Hobnailed Doc Martens?

A good dkos piece outlining a variety of environmental/climate action items prompted this letter to the POTUS.

Dear President Obama — I’m glad to hear you’re going to “keep a boot on B.P.’s throat” until they take care of their responsibilities. That’s a big collection of responsibilities: they have to close the oil gusher, clean up the mess and pay the claims of those who suffered loss. Why am I doubtful that British Petroleum will follow through?

Look at B.P.’s record. They evaded regulatory oversight and took advantage of the Bush-engendered culture of corruption at the Minerals Management Service. They ignored safety procedures at the Deepwater Horizon site. After the accident, they held rig workers incommunicado for many hours and forced to sign nondisclosure agreements before being released. They steadily underestimated the flow of oil from the leak on the ocean floor, and refused to allow specialists to measure the flow more accurately — a position which will make it easier for them to evade paying their full share of disaster costs. Their CEO, Tony Hayward, has cynically stated that “it’s a big ocean,” and the environmental impact will be “minimal.” They used unprecedented quantities of highly toxic dispersant chemicals, and simply ignored instructions from the EPA. Their drilling disaster is well on track to destroy huge sections of the Gulf of Mexico, and may well contaminate other ocean areas as well.

You’re going to need a pretty big boot. These are not good people. These people are liars and criminals, and there needs to be more than cosmetic action taken against them. Accountability for the Deepwater Horizon disaster must include substantial economic damages, debarment, criminal prosecution, and civil fines under the Clean Water Act. The management of British Petroleum, as well as that of TransOcean and Halliburton, must be compelled to testify under oath both in court and in Congress.

And, ultimately, we need to put British Petroleum out of business. Not just because they’re avaricious, sleazy, conscienceless environmental criminals, but because we need to put all the oil companies out of business. It is obvious to anyone who’s paying attention that all of these companies reward antisocial behavior — behavior that is now putting the entire planetary ecosystem at risk.

The time is now, Mr. President. Address the nation, and make it clear that all of us will have to work hard and contribute to the common good — and that our survival depends on finding alternatives to fossil fuels.

The Deepwater Horizon is just one of countless examples which illuminate why we can no longer afford oil and coal’s so-called “cheap energy.” It’s time for us to start learning and stop burning.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 24: No Excuses!

More on the same theme; this one goes to Time Magazine, which ran an article a few days back:

…independent scientists studying the video and measuring the growing slick at the surface suggested it could be five to 16 times that rate, or even greater if one took into account the enormous, hidden plumes of oil recently discovered under the sea — one such plume measured 10 miles long. Nonetheless, BP CEO Tony Hayward told Britain’s Sky News on Tuesday morning that he didn’t think the spill would seriously hurt the Gulf ecosystem. “Everything we can see at the moment suggests that the overall environmental impact will be very, very modest,” he said.

Tony Hayward is a disgrace to the human race.

British Petroleum is gradually acknowledging that its original estimate of oil flow from the wreck of the Deepwater horizon might just be a tad low. Since determination of liability is based on the amount of oil that has entered the ocean, the corporation’s financial interests are well-served by ambiguous measurements. BP and its co-conspirators Halliburton and Transocean will not extend themselves to the maximum in remediating the effects of their negligence without forceful persuasion from the administration. Severe financial penalties and the possibility of debarment from future government contracts would at least be a start on altering the behavior of one of the world’s worst environmental criminals. But the lessons to be learned from this disaster do not stop at the need to levy severe damages on the responsible parties. America must move rapidly toward a new energy economy which will use the absolute minimum of fossil fuels. From the environmental devastation in the Gulf to the mine tragedy in West Virginia, we can see all around us the catastrophic results of our addiction to oil and coal. We can no longer afford “cheap” energy.

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 22: I Hate These People

It turns out, not to my surprise, that BP has a strong financial interest in preventing accurate measurements of the underwater gusher that is currently destroying the Gulf.

BP’s estimate that only 5,000 barrels of oil are leaking daily from a well in the Gulf of Mexico, which the Obama administration hasn’t disputed, could save the company millions of dollars in damages when the financial impact of the spill is resolved in court, legal experts say.

Sounds like the Obama administration should be doing some disputing, don’t you think? I’m sending one copy of this letter to Ed Markey, and one to the President.

Dear Representative Markey/President Obama —

A recent article from McClatchey Newspapers points out that by grossly underestimating the volume of oil issuing from the undersea openings in the Gulf of Mexico, British Petroleum stands to save many millions of dollars. When BP refuses to allow scientists to take accurate flow measurements of the underwater spill, they claim that this is rooted in expediency: they’re “more focused on getting the spill stopped” than on measuring its output.

But BP’s own regional plan for dealing with offshore leaks explicitly states that “In the event of a significant release of oil, an accurate estimation of the spill’s total volume … is essential in providing preliminary data to plan and initiate cleanup operations.”

By blocking specialists from obtaining this data, and by providing a low-ball estimate to the public and the US Government, the management of what is now on track to be the world’s biggest polluter is ensuring that it will never be held adequately accountable for its irresponsibility and criminal negligence.

To me, this has all the earmarks of a criminal conspiracy, perhaps prosecutable under RICO.

I implore you to put this issue front and center in your dealings with the responsible parties. They must not be allowed to get away with this.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

I’m putting this letter out now because I’m going to be away from the computer until Saturday night (family emergency).