Citizen’s Arrest: Oil Spills and the Tolerance of a Nation

by Robert Gardner

June 4, 2010

Today at high noon, Greenpeace, along with Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, Energy Action Coalition, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, 350.org, Center for Biological Diversity and Hip Hop Caucus, articulated the outrage Americans everywhere are feeling by making a citizen’s arrest of BP CEO Tony Haward.

Today we mark the 46th day of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, at this point the worst in American history. Millions of gallons of oil and toxic dispersants have entered the delicate ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, BP CEO Tony Hayward recently complained that he wants his "life back." He has since recognized the selfishness behind his statement, but what have we, the concerned citizens, realized since this incident?

Greenpeace Citizens Arrest BP Image on Flickr
Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen, center, speaks flanked by Rev. Lennox Yearwood, of Hip Hop Caucus, left, and Phil Radford of Greenpeace. View more images from the citizens arrest protest on our Flickr page.What have we done to make sure that this doesn’t happen again?

Have we learned any lessons from this and other environmental catastrophes?

It appears as though our nation is becoming ‘used’ to oil spills. Ixtoc I in the 70’s, Exxon Valdez in the 80’s, Mega Borg in the 90’s, and now the Deepwater Horizon. All told, hundreds of millions of gallons of oil have terrorized our waterways and countless lives have been affected by these spills.

Why do we still permit this industry to thrive (Note: BP has legally escaped paying $172,508,633 in royalties to US taxpayers on leases it operates in the Gulf of Mexico, but has made $6 billion in profits over the first quarter of this year) despite the fact that the consequences of their actions remain clear? Isn’t one environmental disaster enough to stop the drills?

We stood in front of BP’s DC offices and listed charges against the corporation, including worker safety and environmental violations, price-gouging, negligence, and the inability to adequately respond to the mounting catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding communities. The charges culminated in a finding of criminal negligence and the presentation of a prison jumpsuit fitted for CEO Tony Hayward.

Greenpeace image of BP protest Hayward oversees a company that is responsible for causing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. BP has one of the worst records of environmental and worker safety violations of any oil company operating in the U.S. It has paid $730 million in fines and settlements for environmental and worker safety violations, was currently on probation for felony environmental violations, and has been found guilty of manipulating energy markets.

BP’s record is clear. Our response must be as well.

Eleven people are no longer alive because of BP’s negligent behavior. At least 491 birds, 227 turtles, and 27 mammals, including dolphins, have been found dead. The true extent of the environmental damage won’t be known for years. BP must be held accountable for its actions immediately.

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