The settlement between BP and the plaintiffs steering committee is big (and hopefully good) news, but this step has failed to resolve any of the legal issues surrounding environmental damage and large-scale restoration of the Gulf. BP and their co-defendants remain on the hook for fines stemming from the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws, potentially more than $20 billion, and the government must hold BP and others fully accountable for damages to the marine ecosystem, our coasts, and wildlife.
While a prolonged trial pitting federal, state and local governments against BP looks likely, it is imperative that Congress act quickly to ensure Clean Water Act fines resulting from the BP drilling disaster are directed to restoration of the Gulf environment, which has been battered for decades as the nation's energy sacrifice zone. The first Clean Water Act settlement with a BP drilling disaster related entity, MOEX, directed less than 25% of fines towards Gulf conservation initiatives, an unacceptably low precedent. BP will also still need to pay an as-of-yet undetermined amount for the Natural Resources Damage Assessment and subsequent recovery efforts that come out of that process, which is designed to return the Gulf environment to its pre-disaster state.
The BP-plaintiff steering committee settlement is especially noteworthy for its inclusion of disaster-related public health impacts and specific carve outs for compensating losses to seafood industry, but it does not address any directly environment-related claims. I hope that the announced partial settlement puts Gulf communities on a path to becoming whole again, but many questions remain. Holding BP accountable for environmental damages and jump-starting long-needed restoration of the Gulf is critical to the future of our communities, our environment, and our Gulf.
Any portion of this statement may be quoted with attribution to Aaron Viles, Deputy Director, Gulf Restoration Network. For more information, visit www.healthygulf.org or contact Aaron, firstname.lastname@example.org or 504-525-1528 ext 207.