Letter to Attorney General: Hold BP Accountable

Early Lowball Settlement Proposals Risk Shortchanging the Gulf of Mexico Again

10-10-2012 // Jaclyn McDougal

Today the National Wildlife Federation called on Attorney General Eric Holder to ensure BP is held fully responsible for its involvement in the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. The letter (pdf) comes amid recent media reports suggesting BP has proposed a settlement offer that is significantly less than half of what it would face at trial.

Alarmingly, BP is attempting to once again shirk responsibility for causing the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, purportedly offering a sum less than $20 billion. Such amounts would prove inadequate to repair the Gulf and would allow the oil giant – it netted $25.7 billion in 2011– to escape paying what is required by law, what it can afford, and what is fair in a case with environmental damage of this magnitude.

“This settlement lays the foundation for a renewed Gulf and there is a lot of work to be done,” said John Kostyack, vice president for wildlife conservation at the National Wildlife Federation. “I expect, the public expects, and the Department of Justice would be right to expect that the settlement is adequate to restore the Gulf ecosystem, benefitting wildlife, the people, the economy, and a way of life along the Gulf Coast.”

The Gulf of Mexico is a national treasure, and it was damaged by BP’s risky violations of federal law. It is critical that BP accepts full responsibility for the disaster, and paying an appropriate settlement would be a good start.

Relevant federal law under which BP should be held liable includes:

  • The Oil Pollution Act. Using similar per-gallon amounts paid after the Exxon-Valdez disaster, BP could face more than $31 billion to repair the damage to the environment.
  • The Clean Water Act. Civil fines for simple negligence amount to $1,100 per barrel of oil spilled. However, recent pleadings by the Department of Justice suggest evidence that BP was actually grossly negligent, which increases those fines to $4,300 per barrel spilled. All totaled this results in $5-21 billion in civil Clean Water Act penalties alone, and potentially millions more in fines for discharged methane gas.
  • Other environmental statutes. BP faces criminal penalties for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act and Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, amounting to additional hundreds of millions of dollars.
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