This morning I wrote a piece here about a radio ad I'd heard yesterday from BP, trying to make the company sound like the world's most environmentally-friendly institution. I decided later to put it on the Huffington Post, as well, which they made a Featured Post. In response to the article, the Huffington Post actually received an email of complaint from the good folks at BP. Honest!
(I should feel offended that the Huffington Post got the response, and not my posting here. But I guess that HuffPo gets a higher readership than Elisberg Industries. Who knew??)
I want to be completely fair to BP - because I believe in openness and honesty, something I'm sure that BP does, as well - so let me quote directly from their note. In reference to my saying that BP was "largely forced to pay as a penalty [of $23 billion] in a government settlement for its criminal acts and other medical and clean-up lawsuits," they wrote -
"That's completely false - as Mr. Elisberg would have learned had he simply checked our website or contacted us for comment."
If I relied on what BP said on its website, there's a good chance that I'd believe the company is more environmentally friendly than the Sierra Club. But to be fair, let's allow BP to explain how what I wrote was completely false. -
"In fact, the $23 billion Mr. Elisberg referenced (it's now $25 billion, by the way) is money BP has agreed to pay for response, cleanup, and claims by individuals, businesses and government entities - not money BP has paid as a penalty in a settlement with the US government."
My recollection was that the radio ad said $23 billion, but I didn't stop mid-traffic to jot a note. That would have caused a terrible accident, and we know happens when you cause an accident. But let's accept that the amount paid is now $25 billion. Kudos! Perhaps I remembered it wrong, or perhaps it simply went up $2 billion since making the ad. No matter. $25 billion, it is.
(By the way, I think when you acknowledge paying more money to clean up a disaster than someone suggested you did, that's actually a bad thing, because it means the damage was even worse than we thought.)
But as for the $25 billion that BP says it agreed to pay - I am happy to acknowledge that the company did not pay that money in a court-ordered fine for any criminal conviction. BP is absolutely right. There was no legal penalty. Period. There was no legal crime. Period.
All there was, was just one of the biggest, most disastrous ecological disasters that the company caused. When I referred to that sort of "criminal act," it wasn't said as a lawyer, but I was simply using the kind of second definition of "crime" that my WordWeb defines as: "An evil act not necessarily punishable by law."
Happily, BP does agree that I was right about one thing. It appears that the main reason the BP oil spill wasn't punishable by law is because, as their letter states:
"Mr. Elisberg is correct that BP has agreed to pay fines and penalties in connection with its criminal plea agreement with the U.S. government, but that is not included in the $25 billion figure that is the subject of his post. As such, we submit, the entire premise of the piece is baseless."
So, as far as I can tell from the above, BP is acknowledging that they actually did pay fines and did pay penalties (penalties!) in connection with its "criminal plea" with the government.
Shockingly, what they paid isn't even part of the $25 billion I referred to - but is in addition to!!
So, what in the world was that $25 billion that BP paid for? As they themselves wrote, it was merely:
"for response, cleanup, and claims by individuals, business and government entities."
Ah. Okay. That's much better. It's because they paid off $25 billion in claims . Claims made by pretty much everyone who was impacted by the gargantuan, massive oil spill. (Everyone except, perhaps, sea otters, who I'm guessing didn't collect anything directly.)
For the sake of argument, let's accept everything that BP wrote in its letter. That I was wrong in my phrasing. And for that, for the lack of clarity, I do apologize. For the sake of argument.
But seriously, this letter was just PR and legal gobbledygook. BP did not pay tens of billions and tens of billions and tens of billions and more billions and billions and billions of dollars out of the environmental goodness and volunteer kindness of their hearts.
They paid it because their actions caused devastation to the environment and, as a result, forced them to pay claims by individuals, business, government entities, and paid fines and penalties in connection with its criminal plea agreement with the U.S. government.
And everything else in the article, about the devastation that will impact the environment and health of people for decades to come - I stand by all that, uncorrected.
But - the money paid wasn't $23 billion. It was $25 billion. And it wasn't because they were convicted in court for any crime. Which I didn't actually say.
I apologize for being unclear.
There, I hope BP feels so much better now. I'm sure the sea otters are happier, too.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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