Ashley Sauers and Derek Ford
For six weeks, while approximately two million gallons of oil were spilling daily into the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration sat on its hands. As workers and entire communities lost their livelihoods, and the environment and ecosystems of the Gulf States were devastated, Obama did little more than equivocate and assign blame down and outwards.
The administration was engaged in a careful balancing act: trying to placate the outrage of the people on the one hand, and to cater to the interests of big oil on the other. While British Petroleum was spending millions on ad campaigns, people all across the country were mobilizing to demand that the federal government seize BP’s assets and place them in trust to provide immediate, ongoing, and unconditional relief to the workers, communities, and environment of the the Gulf States.
The government regularly engages in seizure: they seize the money and property of people who don’t pay their taxes and they seize bodies when someone is believed to have violated a law. In the case of BP, however, the people are demanding that the government seize the assets of a multinational corporation to protect the people.
The movement to seize BP quickly gained momentum. On May 12, there were demonstrations in over 20 cities. Between June 4 and June 11, there were actions in over 50 cities and towns throughout the country.
As a result of the immense pressure put on the administration, they had to “do something” to make it look like they were standing up to BP. The announcement of the $20 billion escrow fund on June 16 did just that. It was a calculated move, which, according to the headlines and sound bites, appears to have been effective.
The "escrow account" in 2010, however, is not $20 billion dollars. BP will put in $5 billion dollars by December 31. Thereafter, it will have to make installments of $1.25 billion each quarter for the next three years.
So the real number for the escrow account in 2010 is $5 billion—six months from now at the earliest. To put this in perspective, BP has been bringing in between $26 billion and $36 billion annually in profits on revenue of $250 billion, and pays out more than $10 billion in dividends yearly.
This means that the necessary money is not yet available to pay the tens of billions in losses that are real and immediate. Mortgages, rents, car payments, and student loans come due every month. Additionally, workers still have to file claims and wait in line for them to be approved. What good is a payment in six months when your life is being destroyed today?
We have heard repeatedly that all so-called “legitimate” claims will be paid, which begs the question: who will determine if the claim is legitimate? Obama has determined that Kenneth Feinberg, a millionaire Washington lawyer, will administer the funds. In 2008, Obama appointed Feinberg to be the “pay czar,” where he approved the obscene bonuses doled out to AIG and other executives who had been bailed out with hundreds of billions of dollars of tax payers’ money. It is reasonable to assume that Feinberg will again side with the billionaires and not the people.
All of the talk about “legitimate” claims also serves an important purpose: it shifts the burden of proof from BP to the people devastated by their criminal negligence. It turns our attention away from BP’s crimes against entire communities and ecosystems and towards a potential group of people that are expected to defraud the oil giant.
The Seize BP Campaign is demanding that BP’s assets be placed in a trust to be administered by the people affected by the oil spill. Included should be Gulf Coast residents and the representatives of fishers, shrimpers, crabbers, unions, small business people,workers in the tourism and recreation industry, local elected officials, clergy, and independent scientists and environmentalists.
What happens once the spotlight is off BP? Out of the public eye, BP will send in their army of lawyers to fight workers seeking justice. Remember how those impacted by the Exxon-Valdez spill waited 15 years for their compensation, which the Supreme Court reduced by 90 percent.
While the sound of a $20 billion escrow account may help placate the outrage of the nation, it is just that – a way to assuage the anger without doing anything real. An immediate sign that exposes the escrow account as spin is that BP’s stock rebounded dramatically as a result of the announcement. According to the Washington Post, BP’s executives seem “to have gotten exactly what they wanted.”
The so-called escrow account was the result of a mass movement. An ongoing movement is required to meet the needs of the people and to repair the vast damage caused by BP. To get involved and sign the online petition, visit SeizeBP.org or email Syracuse@SeizeBP.org. People over profits!