Time for BP’s judgment day
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Feb 21, 2013 | 4154 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A shrimp boat is used to collect oil with booms in the waters of Chandeleur Sound, La. The U.S. Justice Department and the five Gulf coast states most affected by a massive 2010 oil spill have all indicated they would like to reach a settlement on civil claims against BP PLC that would avoid a trial scheduled to start next week. Photo: Eric Gay/Associated Press
A shrimp boat is used to collect oil with booms in the waters of Chandeleur Sound, La. The U.S. Justice Department and the five Gulf coast states most affected by a massive 2010 oil spill have all indicated they would like to reach a settlement on civil claims against BP PLC that would avoid a trial scheduled to start next week. Photo: Eric Gay/Associated Press
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For more than a year, British Petroleum has been negotiating with the Justice Department and five Gulf Coast states, including Alabama. The goal is to settle — or partially settle — the tens of billions of dollars in civil claims against the oil giant for its responsibility in the Deepwater Horizon blowout and subsequent oil spill.

Many observers have felt the best option for all involved was to keep the case from going to trial, but there has been no settlement thus far. Unless an agreement is reached at the last minute, BP and the federal government will go to court on Monday.

Both sides have a lot to lose. Gulf Coast recovery efforts depend on money from the penalties that might be levied under the Clean Water Act. As for BP, the oil giant has already sold off assets to pay criminal fines, and if civil penalties are as high as some estimate, the company will shrink considerably.

BP is not alone in worrying what will happen if a decision goes against it. A ruling’s possible impact on environmental law and the activities of other major oil companies with global ambitions is sure to be far-reaching. And then there are British citizens whose pension plans are heavy with BP stock. The “little man” is worried.

The sticking point seems to be the extent of the company’s wrongdoing. If the government proves gross negligence, the fines could reach as high as $17.6 billion.

BP claims the responsibility should be shared between it and the three other companies involved in building and maintaining the well. Each is pointing the finger at the others, but even if all are determined, in some way, to be guilty, how does one divide the blame in dollars? It will not be an easy task.

Thus, there are defendants blaming each other and a host of claimants — federal, state and private — seeking as much redress as the law will allow.

The states, according to Edward F. Sherman, a law professor at Tulane University, are the “wild card” in efforts to reach a settlement. The five Gulf Coast states “have distinct injuries and damages and the attorney general of each state is heavily involved and there is unique policy and politics in each state.” That is certainly true for Alabama, where the loss of tourism along what is the state’s most popular tourist attraction resulted in a loss of tax revenue that damaged more than the coastal counties.

It is good to know that Attorney General Luther Strange is involved in the case. However, wouldn’t it be better for Alabama if Strange would stop tilting at Indian casino windmills and devote his full attention to helping the federal government reach a settlement with BP?

Failing that, wouldn’t it be better for the state to have its first team in court on Monday and forget for a while about casino gambling?

There is much more at stake here than electronic bingo.
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Time for BP’s judgment day by The Anniston Star Editorial Board

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