By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
This has been a terrible season for American workers engaged in dangers jobs. Last month, 29 coalminers died when the Massey mine in West Virginia collapsed; and 11 oil rig workers died April 20 after the massive explosion in BP’s Deepwater Horizon operation. The Wall Street Journal reported on May 18 (“Deepwater Oil Rigs Lack Preparations for Disasters”) that many of the companies engaged in offshore drilling operations – a very lucrative business but one that is fraught with potentially catastrophic consequences when things go wrong – did not put in place, and weren’t required to put in place, safety measures when things do go wrong.
Not only are workers dead, but the Deepwater Horizon disaster has thousands of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico every day. It’s hard to know where to start when tallying up the disastrous consequences of this environmental and workplace catastrophe caused by lax regulation and careless management at BP.
One place is increasing the deterrents against such indefensible corporate behavior by removing the $75 million cap on liability for companies involved in oil spills. There should be no cap at all. NCL signed a letter with other consumer groups asking to remove it. The Obama Administration has also pledged to tighten up what appears to have been a dangerously cozy relationship between regulators and the oil industry. This includes the Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service, resulting in permits being given to companies to drill without those companies having to go through the usual process of documenting how they intended to ensure both worker and environmental safety.
Numerous congressional hearings are scheduled on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the coming weeks. And Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and will preside at several of the hearings, has said there will be no more permits issued for offshore drilling until the proper safety measures are in place. It’s sad that it takes a tragedy like this – and 11 innocent workers’ lives – to get regulators and companies to do what they should have done all along: put in place basic safety precaution that would have prevented this catastrophe.