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Thursday, 27 February 2014 06:24

Why Should Taxpayers Pay for Toxic Cleanups?

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JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

CopperPollution(Photo: Cls 14)If an oil or coal firm releases toxic chemicals that poisons every living thing it touches (Freedom Industries) and sends thousands of residents to the hospital from lethal exposure, (read Truthout's Editor William Rivers Pitt's recent pieces Diary of a Dying Country and The Poisoner's Reckoning), U.S. government officials not only will pat the oil-coal thugs on the back, they'll hand over a check worth millions of tax dollars for cleanup fees. And if that isn't insulting enough for you, the insurance companies will also allegedly pay the dirty energy oligarchs again for the same amount.

No criminal charges, no one goes to jail, and to add insult to injury, they're actually paid twice for contaminating our drinking water, for putting thousands of Americans in the hospital from toxic poisoning, and for turning communities into real estate nightmares.

The insurance settlements represent a drop in the bucket to oil companies that receive close to a trillion dollars a year combined in profits, but those extra millions that the oil firms pocket can make a significant difference for cash-strapped states. It's like stealing a tiny piece of candy from a baby when your store is spilling over with tons of sweets.

Why are we, the taxpayers, paying for the oil oligarchs' hazardous toxic messes in the first place?

By and large, the fossil fuel industry owns the U.S. government. You will never see oil-coal executives arrested for the environmental crimes they've committed even when Americans have died from their toxic explosions and disasters. That's why when President Obama boasts about how he increased drilling, fracking, and the construction of oil pipelines beyond George W. Bush's wildest dreams, which means more disasters are bound to happen, it makes you question Obama's motives, especially when we're heading full speed ahead to mass extinction from carbon emissions produced from oil and coal.

Federal regulations for sale: Why disasters keep happening

When Republicans rage about federal environmental protection regulations, think about how we're rapidly heading towards mass extinction. Instead of increasing regulations, Republicans want to gut the Endangered Species Act, and they're determined to blow up the Environmental Protection Agency so that big polluters can continue to rapidly push us beyond our ability to survive.

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As they're shredding the last of the public safety regulations, think of the perpetual oil, fracking and coal disasters, and you'll get the picture of what "deregulation" looks like. Americans pay the consequences for a government that's been paid to look the other way.

Federal oversight of eroding equipment is not taken seriously. The feds rarely inspect the fossil fuel industry's equipment whether it be fuel storage tanks, drilling rigs, pipelines, and most importantly, aging equipment at refineries.

For all the brouhaha the President and elected officials make about protecting the public, the fact that oil-chemical disasters continue to happen demonstrate that they could care less about protecting the general public's welfare. The oil industry is notorious for putting workers at risk. Should petroleum engineers, manual laborers, or if an honest federal inspector complains, they're threatened and told by the industry's supervisors that they'll lose their jobs.

A friend that formerly worked for a major oil company spoke about the federal inspection process, and if what he says is generally true, it explains why these disasters continue to happen: "The federal inspectors are easily bribed, boxes are checked off based on the word of the oil management team, and then permits are stamped for approval." In short, U.S. federal inspections of antiquated equipment for the protection of workers, the public, and the environment are a joke.

You would think that the petroleum executives would want to maintain and upgrade their equipment to prevent potential disasters. But thanks to our oil-soaked elected officials, oil execs don't have to worry about the disasters they create from gross negligence. We, the taxpayers, pick up the tab—while the petro-thugs get paid twice for the cleanup and make off with the profits. Oh and speaking of taxes, Big Oil hardly pays any U.S. taxes, if at all.

These recurring disasters are far from being "leaks" and "spills": those are Big Oil euphemisms that are used by the media and politicians in the attempt to deceive the public. Think of BP's Gulf catastrophe. There is no clear evidence of a recovery. On the contrary, it's been over three years after the explosion and enormous dead zones are spreading throughout the Gulf. As Truthout reporter Dahr Jamail noted, thousands of Gulf residents have been suffering from the toxic exposure. Nevertheless, President Obama still refers to BP's worst oil disaster in history as a "leak".

Who's to blame?

Every other week you read about another oil catastrophe: trains exploding from the fuel they're transporting, toxic water contamination, offshore rig explosions, pipeline ruptures and refinery explosions, on and on it goes, there's no end to it—many of which could have been prevented if federal inspectors were doing their jobs and if the oil firms were diligent about maintaining safety equipment.

These disasters are systemic cases of gross negligence that threaten the public's health. While our elected officials are being wined and dined by Big Oil criminals, they see the American people as merely "collateral damage" when disasters happen, and then proceed with business as usual.

Who's to blame? The oily legislators have passed laws with the fossil fuel lobbyists that benefit the oil industry at the expense of our environment: our drinking water, our oceans, our forests, our farms and ranches—all sacrificed in exchange for campaign funding and happy-go-lucky party money. I've asked this before and I'll ask it again: Can we eat and drink oil?

Executive decisions lead to ongoing disasters

If President Obama is sincere about preventing another BP Gulf disaster, as he often claims, then why did he give Shell approval to drill in Alaska's dangerously turbulent Chukchi Sea—home to more than half the nation's polar bears? Moreover: Shell is working with Transocean: BP's collaborator that contributed to the unprecedented 2010 Gulf of Mexico catastrophe due to Transocean's faulty equipment which was never properly inspected by the federal government.

President Obama is fully aware of Shell's critical malfunctions of transporting their rig at sea, which was shoved to the shore like a bobbing toy from Alaska's turbulent winds. To allow Shell to proceed is unconscionable when this near disaster signaled an alarming siren of warning to the White House. There's a perfect example of why disasters keep happening.

New Laws: the American public v the U.S. federal government

Our legislators are perpetually occupied at passing new laws that benefit the fossil fuel industry at our expense.

Well maybe it's time for us to pass a few laws against our legislators:

New Laws: The fossil fuel industry from now on must pay for cleaning up their deadly toxic disasters that they create, not the taxpayers and not the insurance companies. If the federal government fails to inspect faulty and aging equipment, then the President, and members of the legislature that receive dirty energy money, must pay for the cleanup expenses when disasters occur as a result, and they must establish a multibillion dollar fund for families and animals that are harmed, injured, killed or poisoned from the toxic chemical disasters from their dirty energy campaign money. If they (fossil fuel firms and legislators) do not pay for the cleanup expenses, and for all those who have been affected and harmed immediately after it happens, they will be held to a mandatory prison sentence of ten years in federal prison without bail or parole.

If this were to happen, oil and chemical disasters would be reduced to rare exceptions if at all.

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Footnotes:

1. Freedom Industries, a coal-industry surrogate in West Virginia, dumped poison into the water supply known as the Elk River, waited 24 hours to tell anyone about it, waited even longer to mention that they had also dumped a second poison into the water supply, and then declared bankruptcy so as to make themselves judgment-proof in civil court against the hundreds of thousands of people who couldn't eat or work or bathe or cook for weeks...and this was all before the stuff they dumped into the river evaporated into formaldehyde, which it does, so everyone who couldn't eat or bathe or cook for weeks was suddenly eating and cooking and bathing in a whole different poison, this one being a known carcinogen...but they're bankrupt now, so screw you and your tumors. (William Rivers Pitt: "The Poisoner's Reckoning")

2. National Resources Defense Council (NRDC.org)

Recommended Reading:

Mark Karlin, editor of Buzzflash: Plundering the Earth

Profiting from Global Warming

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Jacqueline Marcus is a contributing guest writer for Buzzflash at Truthout.org; she's the editor of ForPoetry.com and EnvironmentalPress.com and author of Close to the Shore by Michigan State University Press. Her E-book, Man Cannot Live on Oil, Alone: Time to end our dependency on oil before it ends us, is available at Kindle Books.