Do you remember the BP oil spill? Environmental disaster, engineering fail, news media miss… except for Aaron Sorkin and his amazing hindsight reporting. You know, the BP oil spill.

Yesterday, BP accepted criminal responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon explosion and agreed to pay $4.5 billion in fines and restitution. That’s a record. And, sure, that $4.5 billion is less than a quarter’s worth of profits at BP, but what are you going to do?

And BP isn’t done paying for this. Civil penalties will be coming to a theater near you.

But is all this too much? BP has been selling assets and firing staff to pay for these penalties. On the other hand, something tells me that they’re still going to aggressively drill for oil wherever they’re legally allowed to do so….

See, here’s the weird thing about me: even though I’m a big government liberal, I think fining big companies like this does little to protect the environment, and it’s pretty unfair to the businesses. BP admitted that its workers were negligent and the company mislead Congress. But something tells me that the next time an oil rig blows up in the middle of the ocean, it’ll turn out that somebody was negligent. And the company who owns the rig will try to spin the situation as less disastrous than it is.

These fines aren’t going to be a deterrent, and since they’re, again, not even as much as the company makes in a quarter, I don’t think they’re going to be much of a punishment.

Instead of fines and recriminations, I’ll take my Big Government in the form of massive regulatory structure, thank you very much. How about no offshore drilling? How about restrictions on how deep the wells can be made? How about not letting companies drill wells that they don’t know how to fix?

Instead of punishing people for past mistakes, I’m all for using tight laws and regulations to prevent ecological disasters in the first place. This isn’t a BP problem, this is an industry problem.

To my thinking, you can’t fine BP enough, so putting up a “record fine” isn’t going to really move the needle.

But what do you guys think? Obviously, both the Justice Department and BP want you to believe that this $4.5 billion means something. Does it? Is this fair? Or will the civil fines be so painful that no company will ever want to drill for oil in water ever again?

What do you think of the BP fines?

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A big fine covered by a quarter’s profit. BP gets step closer to moving beyond Gulf spill [Washington Post]


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