Only a piece of the pie: BP settles private claims, still in talks with government

By Whit Remer, Environmental Defense Fund

Earlier this month, news broke that BP had settled its pending court case resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Perhaps the most important takeaway is that BP has still not settled its case for environmental violations with the U.S. government.

The gulf oil spill caused disastrous effects on both the economy and environment of the Gulf Coast. The settlement reached addresses the economic and health-related claims brought against BP from private plaintiffs consisting of shrimpers, fishermen, business owners and response workers who lost revue or became sick as a result of the spill.

Presiding Judge Carl Barbier announced that the private plaintiffs had settled their portion of the case for $7.8 billion. While the exact terms of the settlement are not released, we do know that the settlement is uncapped, meaning the amount could grow if it is not found to be sufficient and additional injuries can be proven.

In addition to these private plaintiffs, the government also brought a case against BP for environmental injuries and regulatory violations. It’s been noted by others that BP’s most formidable opponent still remains: the Department of Justice. The government is building its case to prove that BP violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) and other environmental laws during the gulf oil spill. CWA penalties alone could result in $5-20 billion worth of fines against BP. This penalty money will go to the U.S. Treasury for unrelated federal spending, unless Congress takes action.

Recognizing that the fines belong in the region that was harmed, congressional leaders from across the nation have signed onto the RESTORE Act – legislation that would dedicate 80 percent of gulf oil spill fines towards gulf environmental and economic restoration. The House and Senate both have made a decisive commitment, through amendments each recently approved as part of the transportation bill, to restore the Gulf Coast. Now it is time for leaders in both Houses to pass the RESTORE Act as part of the transportation bill as soon as possible.