Thursday, March 24, 2005

BP In California: "callous and intentional noncompliance purely for economic reasons"

This doesn't seem to be BP's month.

BP West Coast Products has agreed to fines, health programs and improvements totaling a record $81 million for thousands of pollution violations over the past decade at its Carson, California oil refinery. It's the largest air-pollution penalty in American history for a single facility.

BP agreed to pay
  • $25 million in cash penalties to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD).
  • $6 million in past AQMD emissions' fees.
  • $20 million to improve its Carson refinery.
  • $30 million over 10 years into community programs that address asthma diagnoses.
"The lawsuit and settlement send a strong message that AQMD has a zero-tolerance policy," Atwood said. "This should be an extremely strong deterrent. This type of corporate behavior will not be tolerated."

AQMD had two pending lawsuits worth $616 million asserting that BP failed to inspect and repair parts, pipe joints and connections in the refinery, which converts crude oil into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. It is one of seven refineries in Southern California, and one of the largest in the state.
BP claims that they were in compliance with air emission standards, but just misinterpreted the inspection rules. Not quite, According to AQMD chief counsel Peter Mieras, and we don't even know the true extent of BP's violations:
The exact amount of pollution emitted from the refinery has yet to be calculated because the air district relies on companies to report their own emissions' inventory. Since BP failed to identify and inspect as many as half the components in its facility during the last decade, emissions might be as much as double previous totals.

"In this case, it's much more than an interpretation of the rules," he said. "They engaged in callous and intentional noncompliance purely for economic reasons."
And for the umpteenth time this week, I return to the theme of my article earlier this week, Of Fish and Men: Corporate Penalties And The Law, where I describe in tragic detail the relative insignificance of penalties for killing workers compared with environmental penalties.

I would be willing to put money on the prediction that BP's penalty for killing 15 workers at its Texas City facility yesterday will be dwarfed by this penalty. Any takers?