Friday, May 14, 2010

Modern Corporate Patriotism

Under the new Republican mantra of “privatize gains, socialize losses,” yesterday Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski defeated a bill that would cap BP’s liability at $10 billion, an increase from $75 million. That means us taxpayers have to pay for the rest of the cleanup if BP opts not to.

How’s that for a Big Oil bailout? Let them make as big of a mess as they want, and we taxpayers will pay for the cleanup. Easy peasy.

The reason, she claims is that
It would be impossible or perhaps close to impossible for any energy company that is smaller than the supermajors, smaller than the national oil companies, to operate in the O.C.S.

which is patently dishonest because, for one thing, drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf is already prohibitively expensive, and thus only something the “supermajors” can tackle. And too:

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, said Murkowski's argument didn't hold up. "The risk is what has to be calulated here. If you drill, you need to be able to pay for the damages," Menendez said.

Interestingly, there is a similar law over on the nuclear energy side called the Price–Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act. In the event of an accident at a nuke plant, the federal government pays all liability claims above $10 billion. So much for that free hand of the market stuff!

The American taxpayer needed to come to the rescue of the nuclear power industry because, as Wikipedia notes,

At the time of the Act's passing, it was considered necessary as an incentive for the private production of nuclear power — this was because investors were unwilling to accept the then-unquantified risks of nuclear energy without some limitation on their liability.

Ah yes, just another way the “free hand of the market” isn’t really all that “free” but instead gives a generous government assist to the oil and nuclear industry--an assist I daresay the solar and wind power industries never see.

So don’t talk to me about how “competitive” green energy could never be, not when the game is rigged.

Anyway, all of this is preamble to what’s really outrageous about the whole “privatize gains, socialize losses” tactic at play here. Because where the BP oil spill is concerned, none of these players are American companies. They are all headquartered overseas, and therefore pay few U.S. corporate taxes.

Transocean Ltd.? They’re based out of Zug, Switzerland. They moved there two years ago--from the Cayman Islands. Formerly based out of corproate-friendly Delaware, they haven't called America home since 1999.

Halliburton? Once based in Houston, they now call Dubai home. This despite raking in billions in U.S. government contracts.

BP, as we all know, stands for “British Patroleum.” They are based out of the United Kingdom.

So there you go. American taxpayers will be paying for this oil spill in a lot of ways: loss of jobs in affected industries such as tourism and fishing. There’s the damage to the ecosystem. There will be health costs associated with the toxic mess. And while Lisa Murkowski blocks raising BP’s liability, meaning Joe and Jane taxpayer will pay for more of the cleanup, we’ve got three two major players who have dodged paying their full share of corporate taxes by moving to overseas tax havens. Talk about "starving the beast"!

Even worse, as I frequently remind my readers, all of this talk about us "needing" to drill offshore for our "energy security" is just a load of bull. We don't have a nationalized oil industry in this country. Oil is traded on the world market. That oil pulled out of the deep sea bed is as likely to end up in South America, China, or the EU as it is American SUVs.

So how about this. Since American taxpayers are paying to clean up this mess anyway, why don't we make sure we're the ones reaping the rewards of offshore drilling? How about nationalizing the oil companies, or at the very least creating a nationalized oil company. If you're going to drill in U.S. waters, then that's who's going to have to do it. Hell, we're paying for it anyway.

Sound too socialist for you? Maybe. But the alternative isn't looking much better.