I’ve long said that no likely BP settlement would ever be enough for the damage that its 2010 oil spill caused to the Gulf region. Mostly, that’s a moral argument: The purpose of punitive damages is that a company must be shown that the cost of doing bad is more than doing good — but that’s hard to do when an oil company’s typically reckless drilling and production practices bring in billions of dollars in profits every quarter. But also there’s a straight-up economic argument for higher payouts.
The truth is that the ecological and financial damages from the Deepwater Horizon are practically incalculable, once you start to drill more deeply — no pun intended — into the math of canceled motel rooms and boat trips, the empty fishing nets, the change in seafood eating habits, the medical bills for all the clean-up workers who were sickened, not to mention the ripple effect through the wider economy. And add to that the fact that the costs are ongoing, thanks to the continuing decline in fish population, the tar balls that still wash up on beaches, et cetera.
The BP settlement that was announced earlier this month certainly seems like a staggering amount — bringing the total of estimated eventual payouts to roughly $52 billion. But when you look at it from ground level — Ground Zero, if you will — the picture looks very different. This should come as no surprise, but the actual formula for distributing the BP dollars is uneven and arguably unfair. Indeed, they’re making exactly that argument in Plaquemines Parish, the bayou county south of New Orleans that bore the brunt of some of the worst damage. They have been put in a position of having to go to court to get more money. Here’s why:
Both attorneys said the amount offered by BP to settle parish claims could not be released until after a July 15 deadline is reached for other local government agencies in Louisiana and four other Gulf Coast states to accept similar offers. But they indicated the settlement was less than the $23 million accepted last week by the Orleans Parish School Board.
“As ground zero of the BP oil spill, the parish was unwilling to take settlement money less than was offered to the Orleans Parish School Board, which suffered no oil damages,” Bickford said.
They said the amount was not enough to cover three categories of financial losses suffered by the parish:
- Millions of dollars in administrative expenses, including the use of parish personnel and equipment and overtime, in responding to the spill
- Lost tax revenue resulting from the spill, including sales taxes associated with recreational and commercial fishing.
- Damage to thousands of acres of parish-owned property that were either heavily oiled or experienced moderate or light oiling. Some of that land has since eroded, and if it ha.s turned to open water, could result in the loss of parish-owned mineral rights to the state.
The good news is that there are legal venues for a jurisdiction such as Plaquemines Parish to continue pursuing its claims. The bad news is that the process will be long and arduous. It never should have come to this. I know from my own personal experience — as an attorney with a long list of personal, business and governmental clients in the case against BP — that you have to fight them tooth and nail, and that they count on their ability to wait you out. I have enormous respect for Placquemines Parish in calling their bluff, and in seeking real justice.
For more information about Plaquemines Parish rejecting the BP settlement offer, please read: http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2015/07/plaquemines_parish_turns_down.html
For my on our long fight for justice in the BP oil spill, please read my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice
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