Moral ambiguity is never fun. The fact is that there is no way to buy gasoline and feel good about it. Hugo Chavez wasn’t perfect, but at least getting a fill-up at a Citgo station let me imagine briefly that my money wasn’t going directly to species traitors like the sociopaths who run Exxon and BP.
But oil and the money it generates are surefire enablers of stupidity and evil, as witness this.
Citgo was convicted of violating the Clean Air Act seven years ago — the first such judgement against any major oil firm. For a decade, they’d been holding oil in tanks at their facility in Corpus Christi, Texas — uncovered tanks which released benzene and a plethora of other toxic chemicals into the air. Naturally, the people who lived in the neighborhoods around the storage area were kept in the dark. Also naturally, they all started getting sick from the fumes, and reasonably enough, sought some form of justice.
Meet John D. Rainey, the judge at Citgo’s criminal trial. Determining the corporation’s sentence was part of his job description. Let’s look at his previous treatment of CITGO’s interests:
“…Rainey granted the company’s request to block the federal government from seeking the highest possible monetary sentence. Citgo argued its punishment should be limited to paying the statutory maximum of $500,000 per felony count, which amounts to $2 million, chump change for a multi-national oil company.”
During the time CITGO was violating the Clean Air Act in Corpus Christi, it enjoyed a cool billion dollars in profits. That’s billion with a “B.”
Naturally, Judge Rainey followed through on his earlier action, and set CITGO’s fine at $2 million. That’s million with an “M.”
Citgo’s lawyers, of course, argued that even two-tenths of one percent of the corporation’s profits was too extreme — because between the time of the violation and the time of sentencing, they’ve fixed the problem.
“[If] a company like Citgo makes $1 billion violating the Clean Air Act and gets sentenced to a $2 million penalty, that is not a deterrent to future violations of the Clean Air Act,” says Bill Miller, a former EPA attorney who worked on the Citgo case but has since retired. Because corporations can’t do jail time, the threat of prohibitive financial penalties is one of the few ways to deter them from committing crimes, Miller said.
He predicts that in the coming weeks, the prosecution will try to show that Citgo has “continued to violate the Clean Air Act with impunity because they’re not being penalized for violations.”
Miller points to other Clean Air Act violations Citgo has committed since being convicted, including most notably an accidental release of at least 4,000 pounds of the highly corrosive and poisonous hydrofluoric acid in 2009. Few residents were notified of the release, and Citgo initially reported only 30 pounds of hydrofluoric acid had leaked. Residents complained of nausea, dizziness, burning throats and other problems at the time of the leak.
Good citizens of the world, indeed. Now where can I fill up the tank on my battered Subaru station wagon?
More about the lawsuit can be found here.
Because Corpus Christi is her hometown, here’s some Janis Joplin: