What do the BP oil explosion, the April Massey Energy coal mine explosion and the Wall St. financial meltdown have in common?
The loose safety regulations, slack oversight and outright legislative support that our government provides for corporations, most egregiously dirty energy corporations, have been on clear display with the BP oil disaster. However, what we're seeing is not just true for BP or even just for the oil industry; big industries like banks, pharmaceuticals, coal and agribusiness are also writing their own rules, policing themselves and reaping the benefits of lax safety regulations with the support of our government.
The BP oil disaster could have easily been the Chevron oil disaster (and there are plenty of examples around the globe of Chevron's abuses). Similarly, the Massey mine disaster, where 29 miners were tragically killed, could have been the Arch coal disaster. And we already know that most, if not all, the financial giants were involved in throwing our economy into the current recession. The point is, we are not dealing with singular bad actors we are dealing with a bad system, and the BP oil spill, and the company's reaction to it, is not an exception it is the rule.
Some in Washington do seem to be getting it. Tomorrow Rep. Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has summoned the top executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips and Shell Oil Co., as well as BP, to a hearing in his House Energy and Environment Subcommittee to discuss offshore oil drilling safety and U.S. energy policy. The hearing will provide a tobacco industry style photo op that will effectively illustrate the responsibility that all oil companies have to clean up their acts. Rainforest Action Network and our allies will be there to make sure Big Oil gets the message and that our government isn't let off the hook either.
In a recent New Yorker column James Surowiecki described incredibly well the relationship between government and industry:
"M.M.S.'s bad behavior was unusually egregious, but it's hard to think of a recent disaster in the business world that wasn't abetted by inept regulation. Mining regulators allowed operators like Massey Energy to flout safety rules. Financial regulators let A.I.G. write more than half a trillion dollars of credit-default protection without making a noise..."
This reminds me of the expression, "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me." How many times do we have to see reckless corporations risking the lives and livelihoods of our communities while being subsidized and propped up by the very institutions that are supposed to be regulating them and protecting us? The revolving door between corporations and government as well as the 'fee for service' process that passes for an electoral system, is undermining our democracy and literally destroying our communities. It is the major reason that our country has been unable to pass strong legislation that is first and foremost in the interest of the people. Whether we look at the health care bill or the climate bill, big business's influence and interest is front and center.
Better regulation and oversight is clearly needed, but it won't happen until we, as citizens, take the power back. The recent Supreme Court decision in the Citizen's United case, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on federal elections, will give industry even more influence over our democracy at time when we need much, much less. Last year alone, the oil industry spent a $168 million on lobbying -- $16 million of which came from BP. Can you imagine what it will be this year? We cannot wait for government to heed the lessons of the BP disaster while our representatives fill their midterm election coffers with industry cash.
A few good ways to start are to: investigate the relationship between your representatives and dirty industry; participate in the June 26 national day of action opposing offshore oil drilling and demanding clean energy, and challenge corporations to balance profits with principles and support those communities who reap the costs when they don't.
For years Rainforest Action Network has been using the slogan 'challenge corporate power,' a radical line that has never sounded so reasonable.
To hear more Rebecca Tarbotton follow her on Twitter @beckytarbotton