An Opinion piece by Matt Novak | Photo courtesy of SFGATE.com
The 58,000 gallons of oil floating through the Bay since Wednesday represent an ecological and environmental disaster. Biologists have proposed years of adverse health affects for wildlife; it's a tragedy for the long-fin smelt, like seemingly so many species, practically innumerable for centuries, now fated to be pushed to extinction.
Of course, San Francisco has a long and colorful history of using the Bay as a toilet.
While in the good old days American liberties extended to letting off millions of gallons of raw sewage into our waterways, the gunk these days is often times inadvertent, from heavy metals leaching from the hulls of rusting warships to aggregate chemical run-off from the Central Valley watershed. Any way you mix it, it's nearly time to slap a "Mr. Yuk" sticker on anything you haul out of the Bay.
In other cases, the source of pollution, and those responsible for it, are more readily pinpointed. The Cosco Busan--the container ship involved in the latest mess-- isn't the only ship to spill it's guts into the bay. Most recently, in 1996 a military vessel let off 40,000 gallons of fuel oil. Nor is Cosco Busan's owner-- South Korean Hanjin Shipping--the baddest corporate litterbug. About 20 years ago the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound, adding 11 million gallons of oil into the pristine waters, slicking 1500 miles of coastline, and eventually killing hundreds of seals and eagles, thousands of sea otters, and hundreds of thousands of birds. It is estimated that tidal habitats are not due to recover for another ten years. The company initially doled out more than $2 billion to address the mess. However, the job was spotty at best. Detergents and high pressure water hoses used to disperse the oil having the side effect of sterilizing small organisms, wrecking the local food chain. In light of these ongoing problems, a string of federal rulings has held the company to at least $2.5 billion in punitive damages.
Exxon-Mobil has declared more than $200 billion in profits since the disaster. This is a company that for two years running has declared the highest pure profit margin of any U.S. company in history, with numbers soaring towards $40 billion.
Despite a mind-boggling income, the company would rather spend millions in court, continually denying its responsibility to the multitude of citizens and industries afflicted by the massive spill. Just last month the Supreme Court agreed to decide the issue, once and for all, sometime next year. In other words, despite the fact that the total monetary damages amount to little more than 3 weeks of its income, Exxon-Mobil STILL HASN'T PAID.
The pilot of our most recent disaster, Cota, passed a Breathalyzer test so he doesn't face the shame of getting tanked like the Valdez tanker captain Hazelwood. Whatever the ultimate findings, both men are only superficially responsible for their respective accidents. Multinational corporate entities employ these guys. Exxon-Mobil's continuing denial of responsibility, in particular, echoes their decades-long campaign of disinformation about global warming.
The corporate entity, treated as an individual under the law, ought to be forced to accept responsibility for its mistakes under the law--and pay the necessary fines.