The Legal Grand Slams that followed British Petroleum’s oil spill and Volkswagen’s emissions scandal ended with both companies agreeing to pay record settlements. BP created a dream team of five top attorneys to represent them. VW selected three of the same people. Which company won the battle to cough up as little money as possible?
In the end, both companies have agreed to pay approximately $20 billion in fines and settlements. Based on the unparalleled, largely irreversible damage that BP’s oil spill inflicted on the Gulf of Mexico, I’m surprised the company got away with paying so little. While VW committed an atrocious crime, no deaths or environmental damages are directly attributable to their emissions scandal. Compared to the obvious carnage caused by the BP oil spill, VW’s infractions seem quite innocuous. The companies generate similar revenue (BP $226 billion, VW $245 billion).
The BP oil spill, caused by the explosion of a rig off the coast of Louisiana in April 2010, killed 11 workers and sent 134 million gallons of oil rushing into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill devastated the coast from Texas to Florida, ultimately spreading across 43,000 miles of ocean. More than five years after the spill, the National Wildlife Foundation reported that marine life continues to suffer. Bottle-nose dolphins, for example, are dying at four times the historic rate. Thousands of shrimp fishermen have suffered too, due to decreased shrimp populations and a lower quality, toxic product.
The VW emissions scandal began in September 2015, when the company was caught deploying sophisticated software to cheat nitrogen oxide emissions tests. Since then, VW has admitted that 11 million of its vehicles were equipped with the illegal software. On the road, some VW cars emitted 40 times the legal limit. Nitrogen oxide is a pollutant that can cause bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses. VW has agreed to pay owners of affected cars a settlement fee and buy cars back at fair market value.
I hope The Yes Men step in on behalf of BP to offer more money. Remember the amazing Dow Chemical stunt? Watch it here: