BP to pay for "gross negligence"

The US is holding BP accountable.

According to Reuters, the US Justice department has recently confirmed that it will hold BP accountable for gross negligence. This recent sharpening of the DoJ’s attitude towards BP’s responsibility in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill (the largest in history) foreshadows steeper than predicted reparations; if BP is found to have been guilty of misconduct, under the Clean Water Act, it faces charges of up to $21 billion (four times what was previously predicted) - on top of punitive and compensatory damages. As Reuters notes, both BP and Transocean ltd. (owner of the platform) were found guilty of cutting corners by the government-filed report:

Specifically, errors made by BP and Swiss-based Transocean Ltd, owner of the Deepwater Horizon platform, in deciphering a key pressure test of the Macondo well are a clear indication of gross negligence, the Justice Department said.

"That such a simple, yet fundamental and safety-critical test could have been so stunningly, blindingly botched in so many ways, by so many people, demonstrates gross negligence," the government said in its 39-page filing.

As noted by an Economist blog in 2010, the Horizon debacle stands as “one way to price in externalities”; the oil spill highlights the more obvious negative side-effects of our reliance on fossil fuels, and is – for now – the only way that oil companies’ income will reflect (an infinitesimal part) of their harm to society. Cynics at the time commented that the US government is far too shortsighted to hold BP accountable, and that the incident would soon blow over (in sharp contrast to the oil that still lingers in the Gulf). Two years down the line, Obama can only be praised for ensuring that big business is not above the Clean Water Act. The DoJ’s perseverance will serve as a glaring reminder that the oil industry is shirking some serious debits and is not as profitable as it appears.

It’s a shame there is no Clean Skies Act to hasten the market’s demand for renewable energy.

(On that note, BrainPickings reminds us that 35 years ago today, the Voyager 1 was launched to explore the solar system. Follow the link to watch an animated version of Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot. It kind of puts things into perspective.)

Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.