Eighteen senators have sent a letter asking Steve Newman, chief executive of Transocean, which owns and operated the Deepwater Horizon rig that BP leased, to cancel its decision to pay out a $1 billion dividend next month, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports.
In the letter, the senators — 17 Democrats and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont — say Transocean has refused to accept any financial responsibility for the oil spill in the Gulf:
Dear Mr. Newman:
Every day, the world watches as more and more oil spews into the Gulf of Mexico from the remains of your company's Deepwater Horizon platform, devastating wildlife and destroying communities throughout the area. In the face of such destruction, we urge you to follow the lead of BP and postpone your pending $1 billion shareholder dividend until the extent of your company's responsibility for the worst environmental disaster in American history is assessed.
As you know, on May 24, we expressed our concern to Attorney General Eric Holder about your company's dividend. Since then, the damage from the Deepwater Horizon spill has expanded in untold ways, without any apparent immediate solution. In fact, some reports predict that the oil gusher could continue for years. Meanwhile, the legal proceedings around the disaster remain murky. It seems inexplicable to us that, while a full accounting of your company's financial responsibilities is not yet clear, you are still planning to issue $1 billion in dividends as if no accident had occurred. We also find your company's efforts to limit your liability in federal court under centuries-old admiralty law a troubling sign of whether you intend to meet your responsibility. While we understand your need to reassure shareholders during these difficult times for your company, we do not believe that such reassurances should come at the expense of meeting your responsibilities to the communities of the Gulf Coast. Bills must be paid before profits are distributed, and Transocean's bill for the failure of the Deepwater Horizon is not yet calculated.
Many things remain unclear about what happened on the Deepwater Horizon. Before your company begins to reward its shareholders, we urge you to follow BP's example by withholding further shareholder rewards until investigations of this matter are complete. Those who have legitimate legal complaints against Transocean should not be limited by having your company's financial fortunes depleted by the massive payout of dividends your company has planned.
We thank you for your attention and your prompt reply.
Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Robert Casey (D-Penn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)