White House Protest Corps

A message from Seize BP
Seize BP!

Seize BP!

By Carl Messineo
A message from Seize BP http://seizebp.org

There are three roads, or options, by which compensation can be provided for those who have been harmed from the BP oil disaster.

The first path, or option, is the BP claims process whereby BP determines what to cover and how much to pay. On this road all power rests with BP.

The second path is through the courts, where people can file litigation and lawsuits against BP. The burden of proof lies with the harmed individuals, who must employ lawyers and then battle BP’s army of attorneys for years, possibly decades.

Both BP and the Obama administration want to push everyone seeking compensation down these two paths, but these two paths lead nowhere.

There is, however, a third option: the seizure of BP’s assets in an amount commensurate with estimated damages and the delivery of immediate and ongoing compensation to all those who have suffered and will suffer lost jobs, wages and business for years to come.

People around the country are mobilizing for the third option.

The case for freezing and seizing BP’s assets

For those who are directly affected by the BP oil spill, there is urgency for action. Every affected person and family should be able to go to sleep at night knowing, regardless of the final measure of spillage, regardless of the scope of environmental harm, that they will be taken care of financially, that they will be made whole. Not 20 years from now or in some distant future, with victims worn down and claims whittled away by an army of BP lawyers, as occurred with the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Compensation must be immediate. It must be ongoing. Make-whole relief will require enormous assets, amounting to tens of billions of dollars by all estimates.

The Seize BP demand is simple: Seize the assets of BP, place those assets in trust for the immediate and ongoing relief of those directly affected. Simplified and swift claims processes.

BP has no intention of paying tens of billions of dollars in costs and damages. Tony Hayward, responding to plummeting stock values, reassured the financial industry that BP can escape this disaster paying no more than $3 billion in costs and damages. His projection included all physical cleanup costs.

BP has every interest and intention of avoiding claims and damages. BP is a profit-maximizing corporation. It is not a creature of social beneficence. Like any profit-maximizer, BP has as its purpose the maximization of revenues while avoiding costs or expenditures.

BP is a profit predator that grows fat on the accumulation of mega-profits. BP lied about the volume of spillage, first denying any spillage, then conceding 1,000 barrels per day and ultimately low-balling the actual spillage volume by insisting that it is only 5,000 barrels per day.

BP simultaneously announces that its recent containment efforts have resulted in the collection of 15,000 barrels of oil per day. It’s a veritable miracle, apparently, that so much can be collected when so little is spilling. More to the point, BP is lying.

Yesterday, on June 9, BP’s chief operating officer told the Today show that there is “no evidence” of plumes of toxic oil beneath the surface. It just disappeared, never mind the scientific and government confirmation by research vessels that massive plumes not only exist but are on the move, placing coastlines at risk even up the Atlantic Seaboard. BP is, to say the least, self-interested and untrustworthy.

Yet, President Obama supports the system whereby victims’ claims are processed by BP. Victims of BP’s environmental violence and economic dislocation must first ask BP to please pay them something. BP is sole determiner of what claims are “legitimate,” determines the compensation level if any is to be allowed, and does not have to make any ongoing commitment to continued payments. If victims are dissatisfied, they can go to court.

The BP-based model of compensation, unsurprisingly, has resulted in widespread dissatisfaction. It is so unwieldy that the governor of Alabama has mobilized the National Guard to provide assistance to victims in filling out forms.

Even with assistance, the forms go to BP.

The second model of compensation is court based. But the court system is in no way set up to provide timely and sufficient compensation. The legal process takes years, potentially decades. People need relief today. An army of corporate lawyers will use the judicial requirements of proof and process and will assert theories of liability limitation to delay and whittle away claims to next to nothing.

The problem with going to the courts is that it turns the entire process of proof and responsibility upside down. In court, the burden of proof is on the claimant, when we all recognize that the burden of fault and responsibility is on BP, as well as Halliburton and Transocean.

It is not fair to demand that a small business owner who cannot feed his or her family or continue operations hire an attorney for a decade or so and engage an expert in forensic accounting to be able to “prove” that the current and future season’s revenues are off because of the economic disruption of BP’s oil spill.

The BP-centric model of payments and the court-centric model of litigation do not satisfy the public interest and certainly will not satisfy the immediate needs of those affected.

Only seizure will protect the interests of the people

The Seize BP demand is focused on relief to those affected. Relief today and for the future. Without extensive claims processes. Seize BP demands that the U.S. Congress with the support of the President enact legislation to seize assets of the responsible parties, and place those assets in trust for immediate compensation and relief.

The Seize BP demand is for seizure of assets to provide relief. The amount seized can be assessed by an agency determination, updated on an ongoing basis, of current known damage estimates. Because damages occur over time, asset seizure and set-aside can be done over time. Whether the seizure or assessment has the result of impairing BP’s operations depends, ultimately, on the damage it has caused. Given BP’s capitalization, assets and revenue-producing abilities, it is not a foregone conclusion that its operations would be dissolved or sold or even impaired.

There is no issue as to the legality of such a seizure. This is not a “taking.” It is not a punitive measure, even, although punitive measures and penalties are amply justified through independent processes. The amount to be seized is commensurate with the damage done. It is compensatory. It does not seek to nationalize or have the government assume operations of BP, actions which the Supreme Court countenanced could occur with Congressional approval in the case of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952).

The people who are suffering today, here and now deserve nothing less. They are not at fault. We know who the responsible parties are.

There is a crass reality underlying the urgency of this demand. If a trust is not established now, it will never be. The convergence of political demands for Congressional and Presidential action will never be greater than they are right now. A few months from now, a year from now, the attention of lawmakers will be elsewhere. The shocking graphic images of the environmental damage will be images to which the public will grow accustomed, and in which the media will lose interest. The pain and suffering for those affected will burn even worse, but the possibilities of political action and remedy will have long passed.

The time for action is now.

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