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BP must compensate Gulf states for oil spill

Opinions Editor

Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 14:07

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama signed into law the RESTORE Act, which dictates that 80 percent of penalties paid by BP under the Clean Water Act be divvied among the five Gulf states impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The money will be placed in a trust fund for the states to be used for restoration efforts, and BP’s bill is expected to range from $5 billion to $21 billion. The money will be used for restoration projects all over. Although legislation requires that 75 percent of the money be used toward restoration of Florida’s northwest coast, the other quarter may be allocated to projects in South Florida and the Everglades.

Dozens of Florida scientists met at UCF in May of last year to assess the damage wildlife incurred in the Choctawhatchee Bay area. UCF biology professor Graham Worthy, along with other Florida scientists, has studied bottlenose dolphins in this region for years prior to the spill and worries that the extent of the spill’s impact won’t be known for a few years.

“People are saying, ‘There’s no oil on the beach, there’s none floating around, everything looks good. So what was the big deal? Why was everybody worried about this spill?’” Worthy told the Orlando Sentinel. “I have a feeling these impacts are going to take a little while to come to the surface, so to speak. Three to five years wouldn’t be unreasonable.”

Florida’s $60 billion annual tourism revenue has taken a major hit from the spill, but environmental components like natural wildlife and the fragile Everglades are also suffering. As damage estimates grow, BP continues to maintain it was not negligent. Louisiana’s coast also experienced severe damage from the spill, and state officials are prepared to fight.

“You’ve got a defendant who can afford to pay the judgment,” said Blaine LeCesne, law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. “So why on earth would you settle for half of what that judgment is worth?”

Standards set by the Clean Water Act outline fines ranging from $1,300 per barrel if BP is found guilty of simple negligence, to $4,300 if found guilty of gross negligence. BP continues to push Gulf states toward settling, but the evidence piled against them points toward gross negligence.

Workers intentionally disabled alarms on the rig prior to the explosion in April 2010 that left 11 dead. Reports found that BP, Halliburton and Transocean knowingly made decisions regarding the materials used in the Macondo well, using concrete and other equipment that saved time and money but increased risk. Not only did the companies take the cheap route but they altogether ignored leaks and safety concerns. Halliburton and Transocean were notified by rig worker Tyrone Benton weeks before the blast of the defects. All of these factors show gross negligence on behalf of BP, Halliburton and Transocean, and they need to face the consequences. Gulf states should not, under any circumstances, settle or back down until the money is appropriated and restoration efforts are adequately funded.

Legal loopholes have allowed these three corporate monsters to skirt the issue long enough. It is obvious criminal charges will be avoided, an unfortunate flaw of our legal system. But if none of these company execs will be hit with jail time, Congress needs to ensure their wallets will be. This contamination is still floating in our gulf. Their day in court has come, and Congress must ensure that BP pays for their neglect and the pollution it has caused.

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