Taking a hard line on BP

By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, June 16, 2010; B01

How could anybody pump gas at a BP filling station these days? Look closely at their logo. That's no environmental green and sunny yellow circle. It's a toxic, flesh-eating spore. Just touching one of their slimy nozzles ought to be enough to make you hurl.

That's how I see it. And you should, too. Everybody ought to heed the call by the Washington-based consumer watchdog group Public Citizen to boycott BP filling stations.

Driving past one in Charles County the other day, I could hardly believe my eyes: Customers had the station's six gasoline pumps humming.

One of them said she was angry at BP for causing the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But her GMC Yukon SUV was running low on gas. "I put in the bare minimum amount, $10," she said.

An attempt to salve a conscience troubled by compromise on principle, no doubt. Not good enough.

Come on, people. We'll never break our over-dependence on oil if we can't even pass on gas sold under the banner of a corporation that cares so little for our health and safety.

"BP appears to have made multiple decisions for economic reasons that increased the danger of a catastrophic well failure," according to a report released Monday by the House Energy and Commerce committee.

Judging from the litany of shortcuts and sloppy work laid out in the report, the multibillion dollar oil giant was behaving no better than a jackleg plumber who goes door-to-door ripping off unsuspecting customers. Let's say somebody's home exploded, the residents killed and the neighborhood evacuated because a plumber didn't want to spend extra money to get the gas line properly tested.

Would you still patronize that business?

BP says a boycott would be ill-advised because most of the 10,000 BP filling stations in the United States are independently operated.

"I would urge consumers to think about who actually gets hurt with their boycotts," said John Kleine, executive director of Savannah, Ga.-based BPAMA, a trade group representing BP and Amoco gas station and convenience store owners and operators. Speaking to ABC News, Kleine added, "Ultimately, small, local entrepreneurs and their families are the ones who get hurt and not necessarily BP."

There will always be a reason not to take the painful steps required to change our behavior.

Hey, Mr. President, stop the deep water drilling in the gulf until we figure out what caused the BP oil rig explosion. But don't stop the deep water drilling, Mr. President, because you'll put people out of work.

Finding solutions to over-dependence on oil may well be like trying to climb a greasy pole; hard to get a grip. But we just have to make up our minds to do it and keep trying.

When the owner of an asphalt paving company based in Mitchellville, pulled up to a pump, I hit him with the same question: Why use BP gas when the corporation is responsible for so much death and destruction?

"I hadn't made the connection," the owner answered. "But now that you mention it, I feel bad about it. Asphalt is an oil-based product. And I have six trucks. It's like, in a way, I'm contributing to the problem, isn't it?"

Such awakenings may be the silver lining in the BP disaster. We all are part of the problem. We all are contributing to the problem. No one has clean hands.

Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen's energy program, says boycotting BP is a symbolic act, a way to signal umbrage at the company for trying to pass itself off as environmentally friendly:

"Boycotting their brand is the best way to counter that kind of charade."

Who knows? Maybe symbolism will turn to substance and we'll come to regard oil on our shores as worse than no gas in our tanks. Then we'll find alternative sources of energy and never worry about oil spills again.

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