Gov. Bob Riley’s request for presidential meeting brushed aside by oil spill chief


WASHINGTON — The federal oil spill recovery chief has brushed aside Gov. Bob Riley’s call for a meeting with the president to discuss fines for BP and other responsible parties.

While stressing the importance of working with state leaders in the Gulf region, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told Riley in a letter, dated Friday, that federal officials were instead maintaining their current approach to the recovery.

“Although we believe the path we are now on has the best chance to achieve our shared goal of restoring the Gulf’s incomparable ecosystem, the president and I remain very grateful for your tireless efforts and your thoughtful proposal,” Mabus wrote.

The letter was sent at the direction of President Barack Obama in response to a written request that Riley made to Obama last week for a joint meeting with the president and the four other Gulf state governors.

Riley hoped that the meeting could produce a consensus on how much fine money Gulf states need to recover from the spill and how it should be distributed. Clean Water Act fines against BP and other responsible parties could range from $5.4 billion to $21.1 billion.

Riley Press Secretary Todd Stacy said in an e-mail that the governor was “disappointed” with Mabus’ response.

“It appears the White House isn’t taking this issue as seriously as it should,” he wrote. “Governor Riley believes the best way to solve this quickly is to bring coastal governors together with the administration and form a unified plan.”

The letter from Mabus didn’t directly mention Riley’s request for a meeting — one of the main elements of Riley’s Oct. 26 message to Obama.

Asked whether the letter was a rejection of Riley’s request or whether such a meeting might ever take place, a Mabus spokeswoman declined comment. “I’m going to let the letter stand on its own,” said Capt. Beci Brenton. “I’ve got no further insights for you.”

Mabus’ letter described actions that the federal government has already taken and is continuing with regard to environmental restoration and fines.

“The Department of Justice is working with each of the affected states on enforcement matters related to recovery of penalties,” Mabus wrote, adding that he hoped the Gulf states would “continue to work with us to finalize an early restoration plan.”

Mabus noted that the president had urged Congress to pass legislation allowing “a significant amount” of fine payments to be sent to the Gulf states. Federal law currently mandates that such fines be placed in a trust fund for future spill cleanups.

“As you know, the House has passed a bill addressing some of these critical issues, and we hope legislation reaches the president’s desk in the near future,” Mabus wrote.

The bill awaiting Senate action would create a new fine, applicable to the recent spill, and send its proceeds to coastal areas damaged by the spill. That amount could total $1 billion, according to the office of Rep. Charlie Melancon, the Louisiana Democrat who added the fine amendment to another bill in July.

Subsequently, lawmakers have filed other legislation to direct Clean Water Act fines to Gulf states, but none have passed.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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