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BP pays more for environmental damage than for workers killed, but why the discrepancy?

As the civil trial begins this week against energy giant BP for its environmental negligence in the Gulf oil spill, we are struck by the vast discrepancy in the size of fines that can be assessed under federal environmental laws and those that can be levied for unsafe conditions leading to the death of a worker.

In the civil trial, BP could pay “as little as $4.5 billion,” and as much as $21 billion in fines, depending on whether Federal District Judge Carl Barbier decides that BP's actions were negligent or grossly negligent.

Here’s how the fine will be broken down: Under the Clean Water Act, BP would be required to pay $1,100 for each spilled barrel (and an estimated 4.9 million barrels gushed into the Gulf of Mexico). But that fine would rise to $4,300 per barrel if the company were found to be grossly negligent, the Los Angeles Times reports.

What’s shocking to us is the great discrepancy of fines for environmental negligence as opposed to disregard for workers’ safety.

For instance, if a company is said to have 10 serious safety violations that led to the death of a worker, the maximum that company could be fined is $70,000, or $7,000 for each serious violation.

Believe us when we say that BP should pay every penny it’s fined for the millions of barrels of oil it sent into the Gulf of Mexico and the untold environmental damage it caused. But what perplexes us is why environmental damage seems to be worth so much more than workers’ safety? Shouldn’t the lives of workers be worth just as much?

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