The U.S. Justice Department is ramping up its rhetoric against BP PLC for the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, describing in new court papers examples of what it calls “gross negligence and willful misconduct.” The court filing is the sharpest position yet taken by the U.S. government as it seeks to hold the British oil giant largely responsible for the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Gross negligence is a central issue to the case, slated to go to trial in New Orleans in January 2013. A gross negligence finding could nearly quadruple the civil damages owed by BP under the Clean Water Act to $21 billion. [REUTERS]
THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT, and our infamously conservative Attorney General Eric Holder, whose history of backing off of prosecuting cases that need prosecuting for fear the proof isn’t strong enough to convict, looks to have finally found a fight.
The court filings on gross negligence, as reported by Reuters, would quadruple the civil damages owed by BP under the Clean Water Act to $21 billion.
In the aftermath of the BP disaster, the incoming tips to me from people in the oil industry were damning and included insiders of competing companies who had dealt with BP, a company whose reputation inside the oil industry is below sea level. Having railed against BP in BBC interviews, I saw first hand the backlash, which was swift and strong, though no one could disprove the stories being told from Gulf Coast residents, which I recounted in depressing detail, especially to the extremes of how wildlife, bird habitat, and the Gulf waters were affected.
On August 13, BP urged U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to approve an estimated $7.8 billion settlement reached with 125,000 individuals and businesses, asserting its actions “did not constitute gross negligence or willful misconduct.”
[...] “The Justice Department has consistently maintained that BP and Transocean were grossly negligent and engaged in willful misconduct in the events leading up to the Gulf oil spill,” Uhlmann said in an email to Reuters. The department’s latest filing “contains sharper rhetoric and a more indignant tone than the government has used in the past,” he said.
But the filing does exhibit exasperation on the part of government lawyers. They wrote that they decided to elaborate on BP’s alleged gross negligence because they believed BP was trying to escape full responsibility.
From the experience I had during the BP disaster aftermath, there is no doubt that this company would use all means necessary to “escape full responsibility.” The conduct they revealed prior to the spill, starting with not taking their corporate responsibility seriously in the first place, which also pointed to Haliburton’s role in the spill, is proof that we have every right not to trust BP.
Attorney General Eric Holder and our Justice Department should not stop until BP has paid in full for their “gross negligence and willful misconduct,” which caused irreparable damage to the United States Gulf Coast and the ecosystem on which the residents depend for their very livelihood.
The message must be sent.
If only there was a sister message that could also be received. That renewable clean energy is the safer, cleaner and an important alternative to move towards, leaving oil as a necessary product, but one that we must supplement with 21st century solutions becoming our ingenuity priority.