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Public Citizen and Allies Stage Protest at BP’s Washington, D.C., Headquarters, Conduct Mock Citizen’s Arrest of CEO

June 4, 2010

Public Citizen and Allies Stage Protest at BP’s Washington, D.C., Headquarters, Conduct Mock Citizen’s Arrest of CEO

Environmental Advocates, Other Activists Read Charges, Deem Tony Hayward Guilty

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen and seven other prominent public interest groups took to the streets in the nation’s capital today to express the public’s outrage at BP’s continued mismanagement of the ever-spreading environmental disaster it caused in the Gulf of Mexico.

Joined by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Energy Action Coalition, 350.org, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Center for Biological Diversity and Hip Hop Caucus, Public Citizen articulated the deep frustration of average Americans by making a mock citizen’s arrest of BP’s CEO Tony Hayward at the oil giant’s Washington, D.C., office.

At the base of a 13-foot tall inflatable oil barrel, participating group leaders read from a list of charges against the corporation, culminating in a finding of criminal negligence and the presentation of a prison jumpsuit fitted for Hayward, who is ultimately accountable for the ecological nightmare unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.

“BP has a long history of violating environmental and worker safety laws, as well as manipulating markets,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “BP was ill-prepared for dealing with a deepwater spill and still cannot contain this gusher. Eleven workers are dead, coastlines in three states are being devastated, the Gulf is incurring untold damage and livelihoods are threatened. People are outraged, and we are here to let BP know it.”

Added Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace, “The oil destroying our wetlands and the Gulf of Mexico is a tragic reminder of what we get when we let corporate polluters write our energy policy. BP must be held accountable for their crimes, and our government must stop listening to polluter lobbyists.”

Protesters rallied and waved signs streaming with “crude” in front of BP’s government affairs office at 1101 New York Ave. NW. The charges against BP that were read aloud by protesters included disregard for worker safety, price-gouging consumers and taxpayers, and violations of environmental laws.

BP has the worst safety and environmental record of any oil company operating in the U.S. In the past few years, BP has paid more than $730 million in fines and settlements to the federal and state governments, and in civil lawsuit judgments for environmental crimes, violating worker safety rules and manipulating energy markets:

• Worker safety – $215 million in total penalties and settlements.
• Environmental violations – $153 million in penalties and settlements, plus a guilty plea to an environmental felony and a criminal misdemeanor.
• Price-gouging consumers and taxpayers – $363 million in penalties and settlements.
(Go here for links to related documents.)

Public Citizen research shows that since the beginning of 2009, BP has spent more than $19.5 million to hire 49 of the highest-powered D.C. lobbyists, including 35 former employees of Congress and the executive branch. (Go here for more details.) The investment appears to have paid off: Regulators who are supposed to oversee offshore drilling procedures have been lax – letting BP run its operation however it wanted – and lawmakers have worked to bolster offshore drilling.

“Big Oil has been polluting the political process for too long,” said Ethan Nuss, co-field director of the Energy Action Coalition. “This fall, young people are organizing to kick dirty energy out of politics by flooding the midterm elections with support for real clean energy solutions. Big Oil may be able to outspend us, but we’re the voters and that’s what counts.”

The protest also was designed to highlight the need for the nation to move away from inherently dangerous and dirty fuel and instead pursue clean energy sources. In addition, the groups called for all offshore drilling to be suspended and liability caps lifted so oil companies feel the full financial force of responsibility for the damage they cause.

“We don’t just need to end offshore drilling, we need to enact smart policies to get ourselves off of oil entirely,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. “Three out of every five barrels of oil used in the U.S. go towards transportation. Fortunately, there are ways we can truly move beyond petroleum, including electrification of rail, stronger clean-car standards, and walkable, bikeable, public transit-based development. We have the solutions. We just need the political courage to stand up to the oil lobby and enact them.”

Added the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., president of the Hip Hop Caucus, “All of God’s children must hold BP accountable for the rape and plunder of our planet. We must hold BP accountable especially here in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, in order to stop the corporate meddling in the political process, which has led to a blatant disregard for the regulatory process. It is time to strip BP of its corporate charter and ensure that its assets pay the victims, clean up the Gulf and try to restore the devastated wildlife.”

The groups also identified the disparity in the fact that charges have been brought against peaceful climate change activists, while not a single BP executive has been charged for the devastation caused. Seven Greenpeace activists are facing felony charges for a peaceful protest in Louisiana on May 24 to call on the Obama administration to stop the next oil drilling disaster in the Arctic, and a local Chesapeake Climate Action Network employee faces potential jail time for hanging a banner in a Senate office building last fall to urge the Senate to move toward clean energy.

“In the wake of the Gulf disaster, no one from BP has been arrested and sent to jail. Meanwhile, I am facing up to three years behind bars for peacefully hanging a banner urging the Senate to get to work on securing a desperately needed clean energy economy,” said Ted Glick, policy director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “It’s time we got our priorities straight and went after those who really are criminally negligent: Oil companies who have repeatedly demonstrated disregard for workers’ lives and our wounded environment.”