U.S. Senator asks DOJ to wait on civil settlement of BP oil spill charges
BY TOM FOWLER
LONDON -- Sen. David Vitter is asking the United States Justice Department (DOJ) to hold off on a civil settlement with BP over the Deepwater Horizon accident until the company comes to terms with Gulf Coast states on other environmental penalties.
In a letter to United States Attorney General Eric Holder, Mr. Vitter said he is concerned that a settlement over Clean Water Act (CWA) violations, which is widely expected to reach into the billions of dollars, might lead states to spend those funds on environmental-restoration projects that are supposed to be covered by another process, the Natural Resources Damages Assessment ( NRDA). BP declined to comment. The letter illustrates how many different stakeholders are involved in the aftermath of the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, standing between BP and the final resolution of its judicial troubles. BP has already settled criminal charges over the deadly blowout and oil spill with the DOJ, agreeing to pay about $4 billion in penalties. A civil trial over culpability in the accident is scheduled to begin before a federal judge in New Orleans on February 25.
NRDA, a process led by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), involves a wide range of scientific studies into the environmental impacts of the spill. If researchers find a link between the spill and the damage, BP would be expected to pay for the costs of restoration. "If BP is allowed to settle the CWA penalties prior to NRDA, the states may rush to use those long awaited funds to commence the clean-up projects that BP has a responsibility under NRDA to restore," Sen. Vitter wrote in the letter. "I am concerned that BP may take advantage of the overlap of these two laws to continue intentionally slow-walking restoration efforts under NRDA as it has done with the majority of the $1 billion that was intended for ' early restoration.' "
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