The Justice Department said last month it may sue BP for damages from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The government said in a pleading filed in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans that “The United States expects that it may file a civil complaint related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.” The Justice Department requested that the Court establish a track separate from the many private lawsuits for the government’s claims. The government says its claims, “may involve complex scientific and economic expert testimony” that may not be needed to quantify claims from private parties. But putting the government’s claims on a separate track is not likely to happen. When the Justice Department files suit, the lawyers will seek claims for the government under the Oil Pollution Act and the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Act authorizes the United States to seek civil penalties from various entities for oil spills, in amounts potentially up to $1,100, and in some circumstances up to $4,300, per barrel of oil spilled. The government will likely seek compensation for the cost of removing oil; economic damage such as the cost of increased public services and loss of tax revenue; and destruction of natural resources and assessment of that damage. Based on how BP has treated other Claimants, I fully expect the Justice Department to file suit fairly soon. The only thing that could possibly stop a suit would be a settlement with BP or strong lobbying by the oil giant. The first option is possible, but the second is more likely to be the route BP would take.
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