Paul Lachine

Polluters Must Pay

As we enter a new era of sustainable development, impunity for those who have caused massive environmental damage must turn to responsibility. Major companies, whether in rich or poor countries, need to accept responsibility for their actions.

NEW YORK – When BP and its drilling partners caused the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the United States government demanded that BP finance the cleanup, compensate those who suffered damages, and pay criminal penalties for the violations that led to the disaster. BP has already committed more than $20 billion in remediation and penalties. Based on a settlement last week, BP will now pay the largest criminal penalty in US history – $4.5 billion.

The same standards for environmental cleanup need to be applied to global companies operating in poorer countries, where their power has typically been so great relative to that of governments that many act with impunity, wreaking havoc on the environment with little or no accountability. As we enter a new era of sustainable development, impunity must turn to responsibility. Polluters must pay, whether in rich or poor countries. Major companies need to accept responsibility for their actions.

Nigeria has been Exhibit A of corporate environmental impunity. For decades, major oil companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron, have been producing oil in the Niger Delta, an ecologically fragile environment of freshwater swamp forests, mangroves, lowland rainforests, and coastal barrier islands. This rich habitat supports remarkable biodiversity – or did before the oil companies got there – and more than 30 million local inhabitants, who depend on the local ecosystems for their health and livelihoods.

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