On July 26th, 2011 Tim DeChristopher, an environmentalist who was made famous as Bidder 70 for exposing the shenanigans of oil and gas leasing under the George W. Bush regime by driving up bids for rights in Utah in 2008, was sentenced to 2 years in prison, 3 years of probation, and a $10,000 fine by United States District Judge Dee Benson. According to reports, federal prosecutors did not ask for the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison but did request a significant sentence that would act as a deterrent to others.
At the sentencing, DeChristopher had already been found guilty, he said “You have authority over my life, but not my principles. Those are mine. I’ll continue to confront the system that threatens our future.”
So, the government of the United States of America wants to punish a 29 year old wilderness guide who committed an act of civil disobedience where no one was injured, no property was damaged, and no apparent impediment to the business of fossil fuel extraction occurred—Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar overturned the results of the auction due to an inadequate review of the parcels—in order to serve as a deterrent. If I accept this logic on principle—which I do not—it begs the question: Where are the other prosecutions to act as deterrents?
On April 10, 2010 an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29 people. An investigation would find that Massey Energy was directly responsible for the blast and subsequent investigations would find that the company had a long-running practice of maintaining two sets of safety records—one set for the regulators and one set that told the truth. Granted, some investigations are still ongoing regarding this case and company, but where is the righteous indignation on the part of the United States federal government? Where is the punishment to act as a deterrent so that a mining company does not act in such a way that it kills its own employees?
On April 20, 2010 an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon deep water drilling rig owned by Transocean killed 11 people and injured 16 others. The subsequent oil spill damaged huge swaths of the eco-system of the Gulf of Mexico and the impact is still being calculated, but is expected to be second only to the disaster of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Transocean and BP, which hired Transocean to operate the Deepwater Horizon, both had checkered safety records in the Gulf of Mexico. Investigations into the Deepwater Horizon explosion found a culture of disobedience to safety protocols that ultimately led to the explosion. Like the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, investigation and litigation surrounding the disaster are ongoing and measured in decade timescales—all the better to suit corporations that can slowly bleed plaintiffs dry of money, hope, and desire. Where is the United States federal government’s desire to create a deterrant so that companies do not behave in a negligent manner, kill their employees, and unleash an environmental disaster almost without peer?
It is one thing to kill your employees and damage the environment, but when a person stands up to the profits of the oil and gas industry by exposing a flawed auction that was recognized as such later it requires the full force of the federal government’s attention and ire. Shameful.