Where Congress Failed, Obama Administration Sues to Hold BP Accountable

BP oil spillYou know what the cap on civil penalties is when an oil company spills millions of gallons of oil into our waters?  $75 million.  That's right.  See, after the BP oil spill, Democrats tried to raise the cap to $10 billion, but Republicans in the Senate blocked it  (I'm wondering why no one gave an 8-and-a-half hour speech on the Senate floor then).  So with Congressional inaction in the face of the worst man-made environmental catastrophe in US history, the Administration had to act alone.  Here's how they decided to act:

Attorney General Holder announced today that the United States is suing BP, along with eight other companies.
According to the complaint, important safety and operating regulations were violated in the period leading up to the April 20, 2010 Oil Spill, including:
  • Failing to take necessary precautions to keep the Macondo Well under control in the period leading up to the April 20th explosion;
  • Failing to use the best available and safest drilling technology to monitor the well’s conditions;
  • Failing to maintain continuous surveillance; and
  • Failing to use and maintain equipment and material that were available and necessary to ensure the safety and protection of personnel, equipment, natural resources, and the environment.
And just how much damage does the government want to hold BP accountable for?  "Without limitation," according to the suit filed by the Department of Justice.
The lawsuit asks the court for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act and to declare eight of the defendants liable without limitation under the Oil Pollution Act for all removal costs and damages caused by the oil spill, including damages to natural resources.
So the government is asking that the Court make BP and their buddies pay not only an unlimited amount in actual damages, but additional civil penalties that can run in the billions, reports the Kansas City Star.

The lawsuit, the first phase in punishing the parties responsible for the spill, could wrest billions of dollars in civil penalties from nine companies the Justice Department blames, including BP, for allowing an estimated 4.1 million barrels of oil to gush into the Gulf over three months. Because each barrel spilled carries a fine of as much as $4,300, those flow-rate estimates - derived by a government team and already disputed by BP - will be at the heart of the multibillion dollar case.
Just doing some quick math here.  $4300 a barrel times 4.1 million barrels... that's over $17.6 billion.  That's almost an equivalent amount to the $20 billion the President got BP  to commit.  It's also significant because since Congress failed to eliminate or raise the civil liability cap of a mere $75 million, the Administration is stepping in under the Clean Water Act (as opposed to the Oil Pollutions Act, which sets the limit of $75 million) And that's just the civil penalty, not the damages.  When all is said and done, I believe the Obama administration is preparing to teach BP a lesson that not just they but no oil company will forget in the foreseeable future.

It seems like much of the country has moved on from the BP oil spill.  Once the underwater cameras were shut off, it seemed, the country moved on to the next exciting thing on television.  But guess who didn't forget?  Barack Obama didn't forget.  Eric Holder didn't forget.  The government of the United States, under President Obama, didn't forget.  While much of the blogosphere and TV punditry is engaged in deciding whether or not President Obama is committed to a set of unbending ideological principles, his leadership in the government has kept it pursuing justice and relief for real people.  Yes, when that involves making a compromise so that the unemployed, the poor, the middle class and students can have a fighting chance.  And yes, also when it means taking on the world's fourth largest corporate behemoth.