How do we punish BP?

The punishment should fit the crime, but can the slow-moving wheels of justice suffice when people in the Gulf are hurting now?

By Jim Van Meerten Jun 1, 2010 12:48PM
The headline pretty much says it all: What do we do to BP (BP)?

And before you all jump on me for being some kind of a socialist mole in this capitalist economy, hear me out.

When I was back in law school, one of the biggest concepts we discussed was how sentencing should fit the crime or 'tort.' 

It's the old "What would God do?" argument. God would turn back time and make it so the victims could forget the pain, and they would be back exactly in the position they were before the incident. But courts can't do that.

Courts can only restrict the offenders' freedom with jail time and award the victims money damages. The pain and loss is still there, and there is almost no way the court can make sure it will never happen again.

Was the BP oil spill quickly destroying the Gulf of Mexico an accident? If your definition of an accident is something that is unforeseeable and unavoidable, then I say the answer is a big NO! 

Every environmental group warned that there would be an offshore oil rig spill, so the unforeseeable excuse is out the window. Was it unavoidable? Another big NO! And companies should have to prove they can avoid similar occurrences in the future or never be allowed to drill another offshore well.

I watched the Washington hearings and heard BP, Halliburton (HAL) and Transocean (RIG ) managers refuse to take responsibility while blaming each other. It was almost like listening to recordings of the Nuremberg Trial after WWII. " I was just a lowly soldier following orders."

I've read where business in the Gulf region is down 30%. Who will pay the waitresses who will be taking home 30% less in tips? Who will pay the maids working in the small hotels and motels when 30% of them are laid off. Who will pay the small business owners whose receipts are 30% less?

I live in the south, but all the way in Charlotte, and have read that seafood prices in our region are already skyrocketing. Who will pay the owners of every seafood restaurant across the country who will see their profit margin squeezed because their costs are rising but they can't raise prices to offset it. Who will pay me and you, the patrons of seafood restaurants who raised their prices?

This oil spill is not just an environmental disaster but an economic disaster as well, and it sends out ripples that stretch across our country and even the world. If we wait months and years for all this to go through the court system, imagine all the little people who will lose money now, wait for years for redress and perhaps never be reimbursed a dime?

Who got rich from the drilling that was taking place, possibly with a lot of shortcuts along the way? The board, managers and shareholders of BP, Halliburton and Transocean. Who are the ones who are paying for their mistakes: as usual, the little people.

How can you punish the boards, management and stockholders of these three horsemen of destruction?

All the courts can do is fine, and perhaps someday put someone in jail. But that will take years. Who will help the waitresses, maids and small business owners pay their bills next month? 

You are the judge and jury. You see the crime unfold daily on TV. You see and feel the pain of the countless victims across the country. What do you think the punishment should be? Post a message below and let me know.

Jim Van Meerten is an investor who writes on financial matters here and on Financial Tides. Please leave a comment below or email JimVanMeerten@gmail.com

Disclosure: I held no positions in BP, HAL or RIG at the time of publication.
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