In an attempt to avoid a public trial, and 72 million pages of related legal documents (that’s 4.5 miles, in case anyone’s wondering), BP proposed a proposed $7.8 billion settlement deal on Friday.
Families and businesses impacted by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill filed over 100,000 civil claims against BP for negligent actions that contributed directly to the disaster. For those hit the hardest, the proposed settlement is not the end of the case, but the beginning of a new phase that still leaves many unanswered questions.
First, the settlement itself will have to be approved by Judge Carl J. Barbier, and even if it’s approved, plaintiffs will be able to opt out of the settlement to sue BP directly. But what about those who have already entered the arduous process at the Gulf Coast Claims Facility? Will they be lost in the shuffle if the settlement ends the current claims process?
What some find most disconcerting about the proposed settlement, aside from the fact that it’s a blatant attempt to button everything up before criminal charges can surface, is the fact that BP alone got to decide the dollar amount. It’s also important to note that the $7.8 billion the company claims should placate individual and business plaintiffs, will come out of the existing $20 billion fund that the government ordered it to set aside in 2010.
We’ll see what happens, but for now, the best news is that the proposed settlement has not affected the federal government’s suit against the company. “The federal claims stand to be far larger than those of private claimants,” reports The Boston Globe, “and could bring billions of dollars into the US Treasury in civil environmental fines under statutes such as the Clean Water Act, and potentially even more in criminal penalties.”
The government has indicated that it does not consider the matter closed, and will continue to seek restitution from BP on behalf of the Gulf of Mexico.
“The United States will continue to work closely with all five Gulf states to ensure that any resolution of the federal law enforcement and damage claims, including natural resources damages, arising out of this unprecedented environmental disaster is just, fair and restores the Gulf for the benefit of the people of the Gulf states,” the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.
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