WASHINGTON Feb 12 A Republican lawmaker has
urged U.S. authorities not rush to settle with BP Plc
under the U.S. Clean Water Act in a court case starting this
month related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
David Vitter, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on
Environment and Public Works, said in a letter to Attorney
General Eric Holder on Tuesday that he was concerned BP "may
take advantage of the overlap" between two laws "to continue
intentionally slow-walking restoration efforts" under a related
Natural Resources Damage Assessment, or NRDA.
After the April 2010 explosion on the Transocean rig in the
Gulf of Mexico, 4.9 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf
over 87 days. Shorelines from Texas to Florida were fouled
before responders could cap the mile-deep (1.6 km) well.
BP could face massive civil penalties of up to $21 billion
if found to be grossly negligent for the worst offshore oil
spill in U.S. history. The Justice Department will make its case
at a trial starting in New Orleans on Feb. 25.
The company already agreed in January to pay a record $4
billion in criminal penalties for the Deepwater Horizon
disaster, related to workers' deaths and other charges.
Even though the potential payout under the Clean Water Act
is massive, if BP is allowed to settle before agreement is
reached on separate penalties expected under the NRDA, states
might rush to pay for clean-up projects using the CWA dollars,
Vitter, from Louisiana, said in the letter.
Those funds "may be misdirected to restoration projects that
should be covered by NRDA dollars," he said.
"I ask that the Department of Justice not settle with BP for
fines due under the Clean Water Act until agreement on the
responsibility for Natural Resources Damage Assessment has been
reached," Vitter said.