A whistleblower who allegedly witnessed environmental crimes being committed aboard an oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico is suing the Unites States, claiming a federal prosecutor ignored his evidence and cost the government $28 million in fines.
According to Courthouse News Service, Evan Howington filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court May 4, disputing assistant U.S. attorney Jon Maestri’s conclusion that the Uncle John oil rig, anchored by an oil well about 60 miles off the Louisiana coast, did not fit the definition of a ship under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.
Mr. Howington, an Eagle Scout, was aboard the oil rig in April 2014 for training on how to operate a remotely controlled robot submarine used to repair drilling equipment. According to his complaint, he witnessed supervisors from Walter Oil & Gas Corporation, Cal-Dive International, and Helix Energy Solutions order crew to dump chemicals into the water.
The chemical mixture the crew allegedly dumped into the Gulf was used to burn through pipeline blocks, composed of isopropyl alcohol, ammonium chloride, ethylbenzene and xylene.
“These three supervisors then proceeded to laugh and joke about the pollutants exiting the valve and even discussed falsifying the logs in order to hide the incident from the Coast Guard — which they ultimately did,” Mr. Howington alleges in his lawsuit.
The plaintiff also says he recorded the activity on his cell phone because he feared he could ultimately be prosecuted if he failed to report it to regulators. Armed with the video, he met with officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Guard, the State of Louisiana, and federal prosecutors in New Orleans, according to Courthouse News Service.
Mr. Howington says he says that Mr. Maestri took over his case from another federal prosecutor and then bushed him off, refusing to meet with him or review the evidence.
Although whistleblowers can be awarded up to 50 percent of the total penalties collected by the government in a pollution ship case, Mr. Howington’s lawyer told Courthouse News Service that the money isn’t what’s important to his client.
“. . . He’s just very upset about the way things have gone. We feel like he’s been completely railroaded after he put his neck out there to do the right thing and nobody is doing what they should be doing. It’s an easy case. It’s a case the prosecutor should have made a name with.”
Mr. Howington’s lawsuit asserts that Mr. Maestri’s conclusion that the Uncle John rig isn’t a vessel that is “capable of being used as a means of transportation” in the eyes of the law is “patently incorrect.”
“In fact, the Uncle John is equipped with no less than 102 sleeping berths and transported its entire crew under its own power from Pensacola, Florida, to the work site where the illegal discharge took place,” Mr. Howington explained in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice that was attached to the lawsuit.