NEW ORLEANS- Today, the Sierra Club filed a motion to intervene in the U.S. Justice Department’s civil suit against BP, arising from last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest offshore drilling disaster in American history. The Justice Department suit, filed on December 15, 2010, seeks to recoup costs and damages under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, well in excess of $75 million, and to impose additional fines under the Clean Water Act that could reach $21 billion. The motion was filed in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans.
“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. These companies acted recklessly. They damaged families, wildlife, and coastal communities, and they need to be held responsible,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune.
As party to the litigation, the Sierra Club will have a seat at the table in any potential settlement and will be able to ensure that communities hurt by the disaster are fairly represented and compensated. By seeking maximum penalties, the group also hopes to deter oil companies from engaging in conduct that could lead to future disasters.
The federal Clean Water Act provides for civil penalties for oil spills to punish polluters and deter similar conduct in the future, with the greatest penalties provided for “gross negligence.” The Sierra Club can make arguments in support of the penalties that the Justice Department will not make 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 over use damaging oil dispersants following the spill.
The Sierra Club also seeks to ensure that funds recovered by the government from BP go directly to Gulf Coast restoration. Mismanagement of similar funds plagued Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.
“For too long, American taxpayers have footed the bill for polluters who destroy our water and air. We can’t let that happen here,” Brune said. “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.”
The Sierra Club’s Gulf Coast campaign is working actively to restore the area’s wildlife, waters, and communities. Following the BP disaster, Sierra Club launched a national “Beyond Oil” campaign, aimed at directing resources to the Gulf Coast, preventing future spills, and promoting solutions to oil dependence.
“Oil is a dangerous business,” Brune said. “The oil industry needs to begin to take our safety and health seriously. As a nation, we need to end our dependence on dirty fuels that have already damaged too many communities. Solutions like efficiency and clean energy will get us off of oil and protect our coasts from future drilling disasters.”