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The Times
  • Editorial: Careful what you wish for

  • No doubt many an American believes British Petroleum got what it had coming with a record criminal penalty of $4.5 billion for the 2010 oil spill that killed 11 workers and fouled the Gulf of Mexico. Consumers should temper the celebration.

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  • No doubt many an American believes British Petroleum got what it had coming with a record criminal penalty of $4.5 billion for the 2010 oil spill that killed 11 workers and fouled the Gulf of Mexico. Consumers should temper the celebration.
    That's because $4.5 billion in fines and restitution may well result in $4.5 billion in gas price increases. This fine has become part of BP's cost of doing business. How does industry everywhere deal with that? It passes that cost on to those who buy its product. And competitors sometimes raise their prices, too, because suddenly they can, because they now have more wiggle room to pad their bottom lines and remain competitive.
    Of course, if you put this in context, this $4.5 billion, payable over five years, hits a company that made almost $26 billion in profit last year. Civil litigation is still on the horizon with billions more hanging in the balance, but all in all, BP can probably handle it (and may even get a tax write-off for a portion of it). So is this slap severe enough to get BP's attention and that of others inclined to take their chances?
    One recognizes that the federal government is between a rock and a hard place here. If a business can get away with effectively criminal, lethal behavior — in this case allegedly "privileging profit over prudence" in creating an unsafe work environment — then it may perpetuate that criminal, potentially lethal behavior.
    So yes, there must be accountability and consequences. Might prosecution and potential loss of freedom for those responsible — both directly and indirectly, including those corporate executives who may have enforced the expectations that made such deadly decisions possible — be more of a deterrent?
    Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.
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