U.S. Justice Department ready for BP oil spill trial, Attorney General says
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee that the Justice Department is ready to go to trial next week against BP over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill that left vast sections of the Gulf Coast awash in sticky crude.
“We are prepared to go to trial. We were ready to go to trial yesterday,” Mr. Holder told the Congressional panel, alluding to the one-week trial start delay ordered by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is presiding over the BP oil-spill litigation in New Orleans. The trial was originally set to begin on Monday, February 27.
“Under questioning by Republican Rep. Jo Bonner of Alabama, Holder agreed that the accident was the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history,” the Associated Press reported. Mr. Holder also said there could be developments on the federal government’s criminal investigation of BP in the months ahead.
Whether BP acted with gross negligence or sought economic gain through reckless, criminal behavior is a key factor that could determine how much in fines and punitive damages it will have to pay. BP remains on the hook for violating the Clean Water Act, which allows fines of $1,100 – $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled, depending on cause. The first part of the pending trial would examine the roles BP and its partner companies played in causing the disastrous Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 workers and released 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf.
“We have a strong case,” Mr. Turner told the committee. “People, organizations have to be held accountable, responsible for the lives that were disrupted, the economic harm that was inflicted upon people that were innocent, totally innocent.”
As for possible criminal charges against BP, Mr. Holder told the committee, “I’m satisfied with the progress that we are making and I would expect within months we will have something to say in that regard as well.” Mr. Holder added that the fines BP pays for violating the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws would reflect “the harm that was perpetrated” and would “try to make whole [the] people who suffered.”
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