Why Isn't BP Under Criminal Investigation?
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She said the power the company wields might be due, in large part, to the fact that BP supplies the military with 80 percent of its fuel needs. Because of that, she had to proceed with caution. BP pled guilty to a felony in connection with a March 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery, which claimed the lives of 15 employees and injured 170 others; BP pled guilty to a criminal misdemeanor for two oil spills in Alaska in March and August 2006 due to a severely corroded pipelines on which BP failed to perform maintenance; and, BP entered a deferred prosecution agreement related to price fixing scheme involving propane trading.
"If I had debarred BP while they were supplying 80 percent of the fuel to US forces it would have been almost certain that the Defense Department would have been forced to get an exception," Pascal said. "There's a provision in the debarment regulations that says in a time of war or extreme need exceptions can be granted to debarment so that federal agencies with critical needs can continue doing business with debarred contractors. I was in a quandary. If I moved forward with debarment we would have had a major federal contractor doing business with the federal government with no governmental oversight or audit provisions. I felt oversight terms and conditions were critical with BP, so I pursued settlement of the matter in the hopes of getting oversight and audit terms."
Pascal said she has observed similarities in BP's response to what happened aboard the Deepwater Horizon and the revelations that the company had been illegally dumping toxic waste at Endicott Island in that BP's initial response was then, and has been, to blame its contractors when, in fact, BP's "company man" on drilling rigs has control over drilling operations.
"When there is a failure they blame the contractor," Pascal said. "BP is the most retaliatory company I ever dealt with. They punish employees for bringing Health Safety and Environmental (HSE) concerns to the management or to regulators. BP management then fails to take responsibility. They manage the way they operate with profit foremost in their minds."
A major criticism shared by West, Wojnicz and Pascal is that Obama has moved forward with an independent commission to study what caused the disaster and make sure it doesn't happen again without the commencement of a criminal investigation and the subpoena and testimonial powers that gives the government the ability to compel documents and witness testimony. A civil approach relies too heavily on the veracity of what the company will be willing to disclose; and in this situation thoroughness is critical.
Wojnicz said a presidential commission "is a feel-good measure that the White House is putting out there to show they are making some kind of inquiry."
"They'll call witnesses and ask for documents and give certain people all the time they need to figure out what they are going to say," Wojnicz said. "There really is no place for this right now."
West said he intends to keep the pressure on and speak out about the urgent need for a criminal probe.
"Criminal enforcement of the nation's environmental laws is a powerful and effective tool to achieve compliance with those laws," West said. "EPA Criminal Investigation Division is the best entity available for this work, yet the managers within [the agency] are timid at best and obstructionist at worst. If they are not going to bring criminal enforcement to bear in this, the most egregious assault on our environment, then when will they? So if we, as a nation, want the criminal enforcement program to work as Congress intended, then we need to send the current crop of managers home and bring in new ones who will."