The resolution called for BP to pay nearly $1.3 billion in fines. In addition, the company will pay nearly $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences. Those groups will oversee how the money is spent on Gulf Coast restoration and oil spill-prevention projects.
Some complaints argue the figure is too low, but let’s remember this is only the first phase of the litigation. The federal government will soon bring civil charges against the company, and the settlement could be more than double the $4 billion paid to resolve the criminal case.
BP and the Justice Department already are negotiating a plea bargain to settle the civil issues; both sides know going to trial could be risky. BP understands that if the government can prove that the company acted with gross negligence, the civil penalties could be much larger. However, if BP can successfully defend itself, the penalties might be considerably less.
Earlier, government investigations concluded that the disaster resulted from time-saving, cost-cutting decisions made by BP and its drilling partners. The defendants blame each other, and the Justice Department must calculate the percentage of blame to assign to each. It is complicated.
So far, BP has paid more than $24 billion in spill-related expenses, and the company is estimating that it will pay more than $42 billion before all claims are settled and fines paid.
That is a lot of money, even for a company that posted a profit of nearly $28 billion the year after the disaster, so the negotiating will go on. Meanwhile, Gulf Coast states, local governments, businesses and residents wait anxiously to see how the civil cases will be resolved.
When a deal is reached, or when a jury rules and all appeals are exhausted, states and localities are going to have funds to do many things. Now is the time for the interested parties to seek citizen input and set priorities.
In other words, begin planning.