A controlled fire burns in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 during the Deepwater… (John Kepsimelis / Coast…)
WASHINGTON — As a dramatic, 24-7 webcast showed oil gushing from BP’s blown-out well during the spring and summer of 2010, Rep. Edward J. Markey suspected the oil giant was underestimating the amount of the spill.
On Thursday, after BP agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties and fees and plead guilty to criminal misconduct, including lying to Congress to make the spill "appear less catastrophic than it was,’’ the Massachusetts Democrat had this to say:
"BP lied to me. And they lied to all Americans.’’
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"They were deliberately lowballing the number because their liability is directly tied to the number of barrels of oil that flow into the ocean,’’ he said at a Capitol Hill news conference, standing next to a picture of the burning Deepwater Horizon rig. "They deserve this record-breaking penalty.’’
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), who as the then-chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee presided over hearings into the spill, said, "Now at least there is a measure of accountability.’’
Markey said a good chunk of the $4.5-billion settlement would provide "significant funding’’ to help repair the environmental damage in the gulf.
Additional money in civil penalties, connected to violations of the Clean Water Act, have not yet been determined and will be allocated to help restore coastal ecosystems and rebuild regional economies.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said in a written statement that he was pleased that the Justice Department criminal penalties "brought the hammer down on BP.’’
“Now that this is worked out, it’s time to move on to the civil side of things and get Gulf Coast residents every cent they deserve,” he added.
"Good down payment, but we need to see more,’’ John Kostyack, vice president for wildlife conservation at the National Wildlife Federation, told the Los Angeles Times.
“BP must not mistake the Justice Department’s agreement to these criminal penalties from the 2010 spill as a signal that pending civil penalties under the Clean Water Act will be any less severe,’’ said Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.).
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) urged Justice Department officials to be "equally aggressive" in seeking civil fines as they were in the criminal settlement. "I certainly hope they didn't trade any of those monies away just to nail this criminal scalp to the wall.’’
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Last year Congress voted to steer 80% of the civil penalties from the spill to Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to help restore coastal ecosystems and rebuild regional economies.
The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 men and spewed oil into the gulf for 87 days.
"This steep cost to BP will provide the Gulf Coast some of the funds needed to restore the region, and will hopefully deliver some comfort and closure to the families and businesses affected by the spill,” Markey said.
Congress held a spate of hearings on the spill, but received a "D" grade earlier this year from members of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission for its inability to "enact any legislation responding to the explosion and spill.’’
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