I'm curious what Jonathan thinks of this. Citgo and Exxon have the same liability as BP, the same regulations and laws. It seems to me this has nothing to do with tort law or whatever else you want to finger, and everything to do with reckless, criminal disregard for basic safety. Tort law doesn't make these problems go away. You don't take murder and rape laws off the book and just let tort law sort it out. Why? Because compensation for crime doesn't decriminalize the act, nor does it provide a license to commit these acts so long as they're compensated.
"BP's safety violations far outstrip its fellow oil companies. According to the Center for Public Integrity, in the last three years, BP refineries in Ohio and Texas have accounted for 97 percent of the "egregious, willful" violations handed out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The violations are determined when an employer demonstrated either an intentional disregard for the requirements of the [law], or showed plain indifference to employee safety and health."
OSHA statistics show BP ran up 760 "egregious, willful" safety violations, while Sunoco and Conoco-Phillips each had eight, Citgo had two and Exxon had one comparable citation."
I was thinking about the property rights issue more too. How can this really solve a spill in the Gulf? How would property rights be divided up? Would everyone in the world get their own little segment of the ocean? The point is we enjoy and utilize these resources in common. A public beach that everybody shares is qualitatively different from 3 square feet of beach assigned to each person. Commodifying the beach like that by assigning private property rights (1.) devalues it, and (2.) completely misses the point that we collectively enjoy the beach in its entirety - not a small section of it. We want certain things to be common property, and the seas are common property in this sense. We make rules so that we can all have the opportunity to extract resources from common property, sail on it, swim in it, etc. We make rules so that those activities can go on smoothly. How does giving BP property rights to the Gulf solve any of that? That's like saying "it's easy to solve the grafiti problem - just give property rights to the grafiti artists". It's nonsensical.