As this edition of the Report was going to print, the Phase Three “Penalty Phase” of the BP trial has been competed before Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans, La. The historic trial may well result in the largest pollution fine in United States history. With the amount of oil spilled already determined from the Phase Two trial, the Court will now determine the per-barrel penalty under the Clean Water Act, which can be as much as $4,300 per barrel. To determine the fine, the Court will consider eight critical criteria:
It is virtually impossible to argue that the spill was not serious – it was the worst environmental disaster in United States history. Accounts certainly support the notion that BP was racing to finish drilling operations so harvesting could get underway. Thus, it seems the company was breaking the law in the name of profits. As to blame, Judge Barbier has already determined that BP was grossly negligent in causing the oil spill. Moreover, the record indicates that BP has a long history of causing havoc. For instance, at the time of the spill, BP was already on corporate probation from another major explosion that killed workers in Texas and resulted in criminal and civil fines.
BP will certainly be doing everything in its power to reduce the per-barrel fine. In full spin mode, BP stuck to the old lines it has used since the spill was in its infancy: the spill was not near as bad as the media made it out to be; what little oil that was spilled no longer exists because BP or naturally occurring bacteria cleaned it all up; whatever oil that does remain is probably from natural seeps; and whatever economic damage that did occur (because BP will not admit the spill really caused economic damage without some caveat), BP more than compensated those “hypothetical” losses. In the end, each of these conclusions will now face a very stern test from Judge Barbier.
Judge Barbier has done an exceptional job of keeping this case on track. In this day and age, getting a civil case to trial in five years is not uncommon. For this case – a case that has been labeled as one of the largest and most complicated cases in United States history – five years and three massive trials in the books is astounding. An order from Judge Barbier will likely come in a few months.
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