Double-dipping is a term normally associated with politicians, but it also applies in other areas. For example, imagine a relative of yours is involved in a “fender-bender.” Being a good relative, you provide that person with money to repair his car and, unknown to you, the relative also collects and pockets the proceeds from an insurance policy you did not know about. Now imagine that this happened several times during the course of a few years. I imagine you would be very upset when you learned about the “secret insurance money” that your kin had been collecting. You may even want repayment of the money you supplied for the repairs.
This type situation has been happening on a much larger scale in many states in the nation. Multibillion-dollar oil companies such as BP, Chevron, ExxonMobile and ConocoPhillips, companies that distribute gasoline and other petroleum products, have been allowing state agencies and funds to pay for the clean-up of dangerous, cancer-causing petroleum chemicals. The cleanups came about when the companies’ underground storage tanks containing gasoline and other petroleum products leaked and polluted nearby groundwater aquifers. Oftentimes these companies collected money for the same leaks from private insurance policies, which were in addition to the funds they received from state agencies. This “double-dipping” by Big Oil has cheated multiple states’ agencies out of tens of millions of dollars in the past several years. Understandably, some of these states are now seeking repayment from these big oil companies for their ill-gotten gains.
Utah, Montana, Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Mexico and other states have filed lawsuits and sought repayment of these double-dipped funds to replenish their environmental clean-up funds. In many cases the facts reveal that the polluting corporations concealed from the various states’ agencies that they also had private insurance from which they were or could collect clean-up funds for the same spills for which they also collected public funds. In an interview with Reuters, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said:
It appears this was really common practice and it’s very disconcerting. Basically the companies were defrauding the state.
Colorado has collected approximately $35 million from three companies to repay the state for the fraudulently obtained funds. According to Reuters, nine states have reached settlements worth more than $105 million with four companies. Of course, as has become commonplace, none of these companies has admitted wrongdoing.
Leaking underground storage tanks, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are one of the greatest threats to our nation’s groundwater. The potential for dangerous leaks exists at every gas station in the country. Almost 50 percent of Americans get their drinking water from groundwater. It’s inconceivable that the largest, richest companies on earth are using public money meant to protect the health and drinking water safety of Americans as a means to dishonestly earn profits and pad their already bulging corporate coffers. But having been involved in litigation with the big oil companies, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.
Stories like the above should remind each of us that, as American citizens, we have the right and duty to be vigilant in promoting honesty and integrity, and also to combat corporate wrongdoing. We must also assist our national, state and local governments when they demand the same type performance from huge corporations with whom they do business. That’s simply the right thing to do. If you need more information on this subject, contact Chris Boutwell at 800-898-2034 or by email at Chris.Boutwell@beasleyallen.com.
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