BP Legal Settlement Likely, Sierra Club Calls on President Obama to Restore the Gulf Coast and Protect the Public Interest
February 6, 2012
On February 6, Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director, called on President Obama to take strong action in any settlement of claims under the Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Act from BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill to ensure comprehensive restoration and recovery of the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem and communities, and to protect the region from future oil spill disasters. With the public largely shut out of the legal process, Brune weighed in directly in a letter to the President, requesting that specific measures be included in any settlement agreement over the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Sierra Club summarized six main points from their February 6, 2012, letter to President Obama.
- Establish a Natural Resource Damages Fund in an amount assessed by the Natural Resource Trustees for comprehensive, long-term ecosystem restoration and monitoring that satisfies NRDA regulations and prioritizes the public interest;
- Create a Fund of no less than $10 billion to execute the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force Early Restoration Strategy with $500 million dedicated to long-term monitoring;
- Establish a Fund of no less than $20 billion or an amount equivalent to the Clean Water Act penalties assessment for “gross negligence” dedicated to Supplemental Environmental Projects that enhance NRDA restoration, including long-term monitoring and independent scientific studies;
- Include a broad re-opener provision that allows the government to re-open the settlement for at least 30 years and requires the responsible arties to reimburse the United States for latent, unforeseen damages;
- Establish and fund the operation of a Gulf of Mexico Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council to ensure formal public oversight and industry accountability of offshore drilling activities in the region; and
- Ensure that all activities executed under a settlement comply with Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice.
February 9, 2011
On February 7, 2011, Sierra Club took action to intervene in the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit against BP, arising from last year’s tragic oil spill that devastated the Gulf of Mexico. The Justice Department suit, filed on December 15, 2010, in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans, seeks to impose fines under the Clean Water Act that could reach $21 billion and to recoup costs and damages, under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, for destruction of natural resources.
As a party to the litigation, Sierra Club would have a seat at the table in any potential settlement and would help to ensure that communities harmed by the disaster are fairly represented and compensated. By seeking maximum penalties, the Club hopes to deter oil companies from engaging in conduct that could lead to future disasters. The federal Clean Water Act allows for civil penalties for oil spills to hold polluters accountable and to deter similar conduct in the future, with the greatest penalties assessed for spills that are the result of “gross negligence.” Sierra Club can make arguments in support of maximum penalties that the Justice Department will not, because doing so would implicate the federal government in the disaster. The federal government is under scrutiny for approving BP’s grossly inadequate oil spill response plan, which resulted in oil spewing unchecked for four months, and for allowing the company to use unprecedented quantities of damaging oil dispersants following the spill. Sierra Club also seeks to ensure that recovered funds go directly to Gulf Coast restoration.
“Our goal is to ensure that BP and other responsible parties are held fully accountable for the damage they’ve done to the Gulf Coast,” said Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director. “These companies acted recklessly. They damaged families, wildlife, and coastal communities, and they need to be held responsible. For too long, American taxpayers have footed the bill for polluters who destroy our water and air. We can’t let that happen here. The road to restoration for the Gulf Coast will be long and hard. We need to make sure BP and the other responsible parties pay for the damage they’ve done. The oil industry must learn a lesson from this tragedy.”
December 3, 2010
On December 1, 2010, the Obama administration announced that it would prohibit drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico or along the Atlantic coast as part of its new five-year drilling plan. In March, just prior to the BP oil disaster, the administration announced it would open parts of the Eastern Gulf and Atlantic Coast to drilling. This latest announcement reverses that decision.
July 26, 2010
On June 22, a federal judge blocked the six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling issued by President Obama. Sierra Club has joined the Obama administration in appealing the judge’s decision.
On July 12, the government issued a second moratorium based on additional evidence demonstrating the heightened risks associated with technologies and rig configurations employed by offshore drilling operations. Industry interests have challenged the second moratorium in federal court and the Sierra Club has intervened in the lawsuit to defend it.
June 22, 2010
On June 18, the Department of the Interior issued a directive requiring oil and gas lessees and operators applying for exploration and drilling permits to submit plans that address blowout prevention and worst case oil spill scenarios. The directive reverses a Bush-era policy that exempted many offshore oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico from submitting this critical information.
June 18, 2010
On June 16, Sierra Club intervened, on behalf of the government, in an industry challenge to the Obama administration’s six-month moratorium on deepwater oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Shortly after the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion, President Obama directed the Department of Interior to conduct a 30-day safety review to determine what additional precautions should be required to improve the safety of offshore oil and gas exploration and production. On May 27, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar issued the safety report, recommending the six-month moratorium to allow for implementation of the measures outlined in the report. President Obama responded by imposing the moratorium on all pending, current, or approved offshore drilling operations of new deepwater wells in the Gulf, except for necessary emergency operations, such as drilling relief wells for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. On June 7, industry plaintiffs challenged the moratorium in federal court. Sierra Club intervened to help defend the moratorium.
June 4, 2010
On June 2, Sierra Club filed a third federal lawsuit, under the Oil Pollution Act, challenging the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement’s approval of BP’s regional oil spill response plan, which grossly exaggerated the company’s spill response capabilities related to the Deepwater Horizon and other oil drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Under the Oil Pollution Act, the agency must approve oil spill response plans for all federal lessees as a prerequisite to permitting drilling plans. BP’s oil spill response plan misrepresented its clean up capabilities by claiming that it could remove 491,000 barrels or over 20 million gallons of oil per day. Nonetheless, the agency approved BP’s inadequate oil spill response plan.
May 29, 2010
On May 26, Sierra Club and Gulf Restoration Network filed a second federal lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, formerly the U.S. Minerals Management Service, seeking review of the approval of five deepwater exploratory drilling plans for the Gulf of Mexico. The plans, approved within months of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, all lack key information, including disclosures of blowout and worst case oil spill scenarios, because the Service exempted applicants for exploratory drilling permits from including such provisions, in violation of federal law. Moreover, the government failed to conduct the legally required analysis to assess the environmental impacts of the proposed drilling plans.
May 2, 2010
On April 20, 2010, an explosion on British Petroleum’s (BP) deep-sea oil rig in the Gulf Coast initiated one of the biggest environmental catastrophes in decades. The explosion has caused BP’s Deepwater Horizon well to spill hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean each day, devastating marine ecosystems, threatening wildlife, and forcing fisheries and tourism to shut down in the region. To date, the flow rate has not slowed and stopping the spill is extremely difficult because the well is located more than 5,000 feet below the water surface; it will likely be several months before crews are able to stop the flow of oil into the ocean. BP reportedly opposed new safety regulations at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig last year and did not have the appropriate measures in place to prevent or respond to the tragic explosion.
Moreover, the U.S. Minerals Management Service, charged with permitting offshore exploratory drilling projects, issued numerous waivers to permit applicants, like BP, allowing applicants to forego planning for a worst case scenario disaster, like the tragic BP spill. As a result, the Service approved dozens of offshore drilling leases on a fast-track basis without taking necessary disaster precautions.
On May 18, Sierra Club took legal action to change these irresponsible practices. Sierra Club and Gulf Restoration Network filed a federal lawsuit challenging the fast-track approval, by the U.S. Minerals Management Service, of offshore exploratory drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico. The Service’s approvals violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Sierra Club is urging the Service to change its practices in ways that prevent future spills, and help to ensure that adequate response plans are in place in the event that spills occur in the future.
Sierra Club continues to provide extensive coverage on the BP disaster, working with allies across the country to organize events and raise awareness about the tragic spill. In addition to the lawsuit, Sierra Club is calling on the Obama Administration to reinstate a federal moratorium on new offshore drilling, and to prevent future disasters through an aggressive plan to wean America from dirty energy and transition the nation to a clean energy economy.
To read more about Sierra Club’s work to protect the Gulf, click here.
Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.
Details and Documents:
Sierra Club's Pre-Settlement Request
February 6, 2012
Senate Soundly Rejects McConnell Drilling Bill
May 18, 2011, Sierra Club Press Release
Majority of Senate Votes to End Tax Breaks for Big Oil
May 17, 2011, Sierra Club Press Release
Sierra Club Moves to Intervene in Justice Department Case Against BP Group Seeks $21 Billion in Civil Penalties, Restoration of Gulf Coast Communities, Water, Wildlife
February 7, 2011, Sierra Club Press Release
Oil Spill Commission Releases Full Report on BP Disaster
January 11, 2011, Sierra Club Press Release
After Biggest Offshore Oil Spill in U.S. History, BP Must Be Held Accountable
December 15, 2010, Sierra Club Press Release
Obama to Maintain Drilling Ban in Atlantic and Eastern Gulf Coasts
December 1, 2010, Sierra Club Press Release
Sierra Club to Obama: ‘Protect public interest’ in BP settlement
February 8, 2012 by Lynn Herrmann, Digital Journal
Any Gulf of Mexico oil spill settlement should include money for coastal restoration, Sierra Club says
February 8, 2012 by Bruce Alpert, Times-Picayune
Livelihoods on the Line
May/June 2011 issue of SIERRA Magazine, By Douglas McCollam
U.S. Sues Companies for Spill Damages
December 15, 2010 by John Schwartz, The New York Times
Strong Evidence Emerges of BP Oil on Seafloor
December 9, 2010 by Jeffrey Ball, The Wall Street Journal
The Gulf Between Us: Stories of terror and beauty from the world's largest accidental offshore oil disaster
November/December 2010 issue of Orion magazine, By Terry Tempest Williams
See other "Fighting Dirty Oil and Promoting Green Transportation" cases.