Questions remain as phase I of BP trial ends

By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

Restoration advocates host a press conference to mark the three-year anniversary of the start of the BP oil disaster, outside the Hale Boggs Federal Building in New Orleans.

Testimony in the first phase of the BP oil spill trial wrapped up last week, but it could be at least a year before a decision is made in the case. On Wednesday, the court issued an order seeking clarity on critical issues in the case relating to gross negligence, and with millions of pages of evidence for the judge to consider, many questions remain unanswered. During the eight grueling weeks of trial, both sides presented detailed factual and legal arguments about the events leading up to the disaster, hoping that Judge Barbier would find the law on their side. Inside the courtroom, dozens of lawyers tried to make sense of the multiple safety and operational failures that caused the rig blowup in April 2010. The stakes are high, with potentially billions of dollars in fines and penalties on the line. Outside the courtroom, the Gulf Coast is still awaiting a resolution, so important ecosystem and economic restoration can begin.

Most legal experts predicted that BP and the plaintiffs would settle out of court because of the complexity of legal issues and sheer amount of money at stake. BP currently faces up to $17.6 billion in fines for civil violations under the Clean Water Act alone. The company has reportedly already spent $25 billion on cleanup and other payouts to date. But the real loser in the litigation is clear: the Gulf Coast’s communities, wildlife and ecosystems that continue to wait for BP to make good on their promise to make the Gulf whole.

“Restore Our Gulf, Restore Our Future”

Nearly two years ago, BP promised $1 billion to the federal government and five Gulf Coast states to help kick start ecosystem restoration along the Gulf Coast. That promise, known as the Framework for Early Restoration, has funded only $69 million worth of restoration projects to date. That’s less than 7 percent of the $1 billion BP pledged. BP is playing hard ball on all fronts at the expense of the Gulf Coast environment.

This past weekend marked the three-year anniversary of the start of the BP oil disaster. With the next phase of trial not scheduled to begin until September, it’s still a waiting game for the Gulf Coast. Delay is the last thing this ecosystem can afford. Every hour, Louisiana loses one football field of land. The state has developed a comprehensive Coastal Master Plan to restore its coast, to be funded by RESTORE Act money from BP. But as the litigation drags on, restoration along Louisiana’s coast and throughout the Gulf continues to wait.