Six years later, the legal battle against fossil fuel juggernaut British Petroleum is finally coming to a close. A judge has finally approved a $20 billion settlement to cover the horrifying environmental damage and economic damage done to the Gulf of Mexico by the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which killed eleven workers and leaked 4.9 million barrels of oil. While this might sound like an impressive figure, the case is a flagrant example of how multinational corporations are able to evade justice and keep their bottom lines healthy at the expense of the American people. BP will be able to deduct a jaw-dropping $15.3 billion of that penalty from their tax return. BP was also able to deduct their $32 billion cleanup effort after the spill, which cost American taxpayers ANOTHER $10 billion.
It goes to show how twisted our tax code truly is. Right now, it “allows businesses to deduct damages, even punitive damages. Restitution and other remedial payments are also fully deductible,” as noted by Forbes. A consumer watchdog called the United States Public Interest Research Group issued this statement in protest of the outrageous handouts that these notorious polluters enjoy:
$15.3 billion of the settlement qualifies as a tax deduction, earning the oil giant a tax windfall for what amounts to gross negligence. Despite thousands of comments from ordinary Americans calling on the Department of Justice to deny these tax write offs, BP will still be able to claim the settlement as business as usual. This not only shifts the burden of the deal onto ordinary taxpayers, but it also sends the wrong message.
On top of that, British Petroleum is one of the five major fossil fuel companies (the others are Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell) that receive some $2.4 billion of taxpayer dollars in federal subsidies every year. They claim that these subsidies are necessary to preserve job creation, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that employment in the oil industry declined by 10 percent between 2007 to 2012, while five of the most profitable companies in the world collected $24 billion in subsidies from the American people over the past ten years.
It is an absolute disgrace that these polluters are able to extort so much money from the hard-working American taxpayer while the middle class continues to decline and a wave of frustration over low wages propels Donald Trump to the front of the Republican presidential race. Progressives like Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are absolutely right – it’s far past time we demanded that these ethereal entities begin paying their fair share in taxes – and to do the right thing and clean up their own messes.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.