Rena Steinzor, Professor of Law, University of Maryland School of Law
By Garrett Trego
How can disasters like Deep Water be avoided in the future? The answer starts at the top. As the previous speaker, Hope Babcock – Professor at Georgetown Law School, pointed out, without public outcry reaching a level equivalent to the reaction to the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in Pennsylvania, environmental safety and enforcement needs to come from private companies themselves and the government.
In her presentation, Rena Steinzor disregarded the possibilities of self regulation of petroleum companies, noting that British attempts at this system have resulted in minimal enforcement and a system in which the oil workers, the public and the environment is protected only by an absentee corporation’s self-imposed safety requirements.
Steinzor went on to discuss that for a company engaged in such a high risk activity as deep water drilling, BP’s safety record was alarmingly poor. The leadership of the corporation was focused on growth, focused on becoming the largest oil producer in the world, and not on the safety and maintenance of individual job sites. Plant and rig managers were not given the resources to establish the type of safe work environment necessary for the long term stability of the company and for the protection of BP employees, the public, and the environment. It was so obvious that company leadership was disinterested in safety that workers and site managers often were afraid to report injuries and safety issues. BP was motivated not by safety, care for employees, or for the environment, but by cost cutting, growth, and profits.
Steinzor suggests that it is not enough to impose civil penalties on BP or even to press criminal charges against the corporation. Instead, it is necessary for the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute the corporate leadership of British Petroleum that showed a reckless disregard for the safety of their employees, the environment, and the public. She suggests that the foundation for these suits has been established by the Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine, which has its roots with the Food and Drug Act and United States v. Park – a case dealing with unsanitary conditions of food storage facilities.
Steinzor demanded that the actions of BP executives cannot be ignored. Punishing the company will not deter future behavior. The answer starts at the top, and punishment must be cast down against the leadership of BP and any other negligent corporate officers who carelessly allow such unsafe practices to predictably lead to such large scale disaster.