Month 9, Day 23: Variations on a Theme

The BP disaster was really the gift that kept on giving for a letter-writer. This goes to the New Orleans Times-Picayune in response to their article on BP’s inept handling of the spill.

Since BP’s low-ball estimates of flow rate were the ones accepted by the media and the Federal government, the profoundly inadequate response on both public and private levels is unsurprising. What is bizarre is how strongly Tony Hayward and the rest of the BP team appeared to believe their own misinformation, as if the power of a misleading number would somehow make millions of gallons of oil swiftly and suddenly vanish away. This global giant is either so incompetent it cannot measure its own work accurately, or it is so unethical that it would circulate misstatements and spin in order to avoid responsibility. That’s the choice, and it’s a pretty unappealing one. America needs an energy economy where citizens aren’t daily forced to support corporations whose behavior is stupid, malevolent or some combination of the two.

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: A Good Head Of Steam Tonight

There was no chance in hell that a mainstream publication would print the following, so I decided to send it to The Nation. I know, preaching to the choir and all that. But it was fun to write, and I’d love to see the “oil and coal reward the stupid and evil” meme get established.

Looking at the smug arrogance of oil and coal executives, one is convinced that a fossil fuel economy is inherently biased to reward the nasty and stupid. Don Blankenship, whose Massey Coal Company has never met a regulatory corner it couldn’t cut? Tony Hayward, who reassuringly tells us that the environmental impact of Deepwater Horizon will be insignificant? Exxon? Chevron? Leaving aside the likely impact of catastrophic global climate change, the huge costs of post-disaster cleanups, and the multiple other factors that make fossil fuels our most expensive energy source in the long term, the behavior of these companies and the individuals who head them is reprehensible at best and stunningly vile at worst. That fact alone should motivate us to move to a new energy economy. If corporations are worthy of personhood, we must ask, “What kind of person threatens the lives of others without thought of the consequences?” Oil and coal reward criminal sociopathy. Which is yet another reason that the world needs to stop rewarding Oil and Coal.

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 11: Righteous Anger!

I heard BP CEO Tony Hayward’s little interview on CNN. So I wrote him a letter. I’m going to email it to BP’s press office, mail it to BP’s home office, and send another copy into outer space: Hayward is described as living “near Sevenoaks, Kent, United Kingdom.” So I’m going to address an envelope just that way and send it. It’s too bad that the very rich and powerful (see Cheney, Richard) cannot be located by the people whose lives they influence.

Dear Mr. Hayward —

I was distressed to listen to your brief interview on CNN in which you brushed aside questions about British Petroleum’s willingness to assume greater liability for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Senator Ben Nelson, commenting on your appearance, said that he had no confidence that your corporation would waive the $75,000,000 limit of damage liability — that is to say, he had no confidence that British Petroleum would do the right thing.

Because, Mr Hayward, abdicating your corporate responsibility for a disaster you caused is the wrong thing to do. To be sure, such a selfish and irresponsible action will no doubt be viewed favorably by BP’s stockholders, whose losses will thereby be mitigated.

And that, sir, is why, more than politicians, corporations are feared and reviled by the great majority of the world’s population. Because a group of shareholders dispersed in multiple locations around the planet can influence corporate behavior in ways that will condemn entire communities and ecosystems to an oil-soaked oblivion. Because the profit imperative drives corporate behavior; because corporations don’t have to eat petroleum-poisoned fish; because corporations have no consciences; because while British Petroleum may pump oil from the Gulf of Mexico it does not mean that British Petroleum “feels” any responsibility for the damage it’s done — because corporations don’t feel anything.

And because you have elected to surrender your humanity to the profit motive and become the nominal leader of a corporation, it means that the image of an oil-soaked seabird gasping its last breath is not a grotesque and horrifying atrocity, but a Public Relations problem. The public must be distracted from the dead birds, from the poisoned fish, from the devastated ecosystems, from the crippled industries, from the blighted bays.

Let me tell you something, Mr Hayward. This time, the public won’t be distracted. British Petroleum created one of the greatest environmental catastrophes our planet has yet experienced. It is obvious in retrospect that your corporation was ill-prepared for any eventuality other than the optimal one; it is increasingly obvious that your corporation’s record of compliance with even the weakest safety and environmental regulations is abysmal. This is your disaster, and there are thousands of people throughout the world who will not rest until everyone knows that British Petroleum refused to pay to clean up the mess it created.

Perhaps I’m wrong, and your corporation will act decisively in the public interest. I hope so; demonstrating that BP takes its responsibilities seriously would give the citizens of the world an example of corporate good citizenship. But if I were a betting man, my money would be on “irresponsible, avaricious sociopathy.”

Are you going to prove me wrong?

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders