Capitol Hill is finally having its say on the BP Oil Spill. But missing from all the posturing and rhetoric is a concrete plan to ensure that justice is served and that this never happens again. The sad fact is that even if the hole were plugged tomorrow, the damage is done. The Gulf of Mexico is damaged for a generation, at least. Accepting that, America’s leaders must look forward, and need to develop a way to hold those in power immediately responsible, to be certain that this never happens again. Unfortunately, another case of heinous corporate negligence – this one in India – failed to do so. But, this may indeed be a unique case where America can stand to learn from India.
Sadly, the way in which America can learn best from India, and their handling of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, is to learn from their mistakes. The Bhopal incident was the worst industrial disaster in the history of the world. It took place in early December 1984 after a breakdown at a local production facility led to the leak of methyl isocyanate gas and other toxins from the plant. Estimates on the number of deaths ranges from 3,000 to 8,000, with hundreds of thousands more injured through exposure.
Adding insult to injury, there was no resolution and no restitution to the victims, until last week. More than 25 years after parents lost their children, and children lost their parents, and thousands more were injured, a court settlement delivered a decision, which some regarded as an insult.
I’m afraid that the same tactic which Union Carbide used in the Bhopal disaster will be the same one we see from BP in the Gulf Oil Spill. It is in the company’s best interests to let the legal process drag on, wearing down plaintiffs and allowing for the defense to build its case with robust financing.
Sadly, the victims in Bhopal, and most of those in the Gulf Oil Spill, do not have the financial backing to counter the power of a company as large as BP, which by some estimates, has enough wealth to make itself a member of the G-20.
The U.S. has taken a small, but good first step by placing $20 billion in escrow for victims of the spill, but the key to seeing this go through is to streamline the process for the victims. I understand the justice system is often slow by design, but if you allow for justice in the Gulf region to be delayed as long as it was in India, victims in the Gulf will regard their justice system on par with the Indian justice system and the long-awaited verdict in Bhopal . And they too will regard the verdict as nothing more than an insult on top of a tragedy.