Louisiana Declines to Immediately Penalize BP for Drilling Disaster

According to public records, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) has backed off initial threats to assess penalties for BP’s violations of state law “until ongoing investigations of the oil spill are completed.” This decision was reached at a June 8th meeting attended by eight BP representatives and 8 representatives from LDEQ.This meeting was held to discuss a May 31 Compliance Order and Notice of Potential Penalty issued to BP by LDEQ. This Compliance and Penalty document:Cited 6 violations of state law related to the BP oil drilling disaster including the “unauthorized discharge of oil and other pollutants;” Ordered BP to take all necessary measures to stop the violations, and submit a report to LDEQ within a month with detailed descriptions of the circumstances surrounding the violations of state law, and their plan to stop them;Notified BP of potential civil penalties for its violations of state law.The penalties would have included the cost associated with the state’s response to BP oil drilling disaster related violations, plus up to $32,500 a day for each of the six penalties. Unfortunately, the meeting between LDEQ and BP resulted in the state backing down on several key elements of the Compliance and Penalty document.LDEQ did not identify “any additional measures for immediate action” that BP should undertake to curtail its violations, essentially suggesting that BP is currently taking all necessary actions.LDEQ agreed to allow BP an extra two weeks to submit the report detailing the circumstances of the BP’s violations and their plans to curtail them. Both parties agreed that “in view of ongoing investigations of this matter…it would be premature for BP to submit comments on the circumstances of the alleged violations and on any proposed penalties at this time.” In a separate letter, LDEQ stated that it “has not commenced and will not commence an action for the assessment of civil penalties until ongoing investigations of the oil spill are completed.” It is more than a little disappointing to see LDEQ, the state agency that is primarily tasked with protecting Louisiana’s environment, playing nice with BP as oil continues to lap at our shores. It’s true that investigations of BP’s oil drilling disaster are ongoing, but we already know enough to make it clear that BP is one of the responsible parties and needs to be held accountable for their actions. In these rough fiscal times for the state of Louisiana, these fines could have provided a vital source of revenue for the state as it deals with the impacts of the BP oil drilling disaster on our communities, environment, and human health. Still, this Compliance and Penalty document does leave the door open for future penalties. It’s vital that LDEQ moves aggressively now to assess the damages and costs from BP’s drilling disaster to make sure that BP ultimately pays us what it owes.Source Documents:May 31, 2010 LDEQ Letter to BP, RE: Consolidated Compliance & Notice of Potential PenaltyJune 8, 2010 Meeting Attendees ListJune 10, 2010 BP Legal Representation Letter to LDEQJune 18, 2010 LDEQ Letter to BP Legal RepresentationRaleigh Hoke is GRN’s Mississippi Organizer

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