I've been thinking about the story of the scorpion and the toad. It goes like this: A scorpion and a toad find themselves at a river bank. The scorpion really wants to cross the river and knows it cannot swim; so, it turns to the toad and says, "Listen, you can swim and I can't. We both want to cross the river, so I have a deal for you. If you let me ride on your back while you swim, I promise to protect you from any predators that may try to eat you for the rest of your days." The toad was skeptical. He told the scorpion, "You're a scorpion. If you sting me when we are in the water, I'll die and you'll drown." The scorpion promised not to sting the toad and a deal was struck. Halfway across into their journey, the scorpion stings the toad. The toad, knowing that they will both soon die, turns to the scorpion and asks why he would do such a thing. The scorpion replies, "I don't know, it's just my nature."

I cannot help but to recall this story when people ask me whether I think BP will do "the right thing" and fairly compensate those who are harmed by the oil spill. In a recent story, Newsweek examines BP's sketchy safety history and efforts to squelch significant punishment.

Discussing the 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery, the article notes that "EPA investigators wanted to ... charge top corporate officers who, they were convinced, had knowledge of the safety deficiencies at Texas City and failed to take corrective action." One EPA investigator who was upset over the Justice Department's refusal to prosecute said that he believed "this went all the way to the very top" and described the $50 million fine as a "laughingstock."

Another EPA investigator described the 2006 massive oil leak in Alaska as "a humdinger of a case" because "[t]here was a corporate philosophy that it was cheaper to operate a failure and then deal with the problem later rather than do preventive maintenance." When another EPA official threatened debarment from government contracts, she was quickly reminded that BP was the largest supplier of fuel to the Pentagon in recent years and that the Pentagon could simply claim a national security exception to protect BP.

BP has said that it will pay "legitimate" and "objectively verifiable" claims arising from the oil spill. Maybe it will, but I can tell you this: I sure wouldn't trust my life on it. Some people (don't forget that companies are nothing more than a collection of people wrapped together in a legal fiction) cannot bring themselves to do the right thing, even when the right thing will most benefit them.


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <p> <span> <div> <h1> <h2> <h3> <h4> <h5> <h6> <img> <map> <area> <hr> <br> <br /> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <table> <tr> <td> <em> <b> <u> <i> <strong> <font> <del> <ins> <sub> <sup> <quote> <blockquote> <pre> <address> <code> <cite> <embed> <object> <strike> <caption>
  • You may post PHP code. You should include <?php ?> tags.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

More information about formatting options

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.