Civil liability is not the only concern of BP, Transocean and Haliburton, the three companies involved in a Gulf drilling accident that has to date spilled some 4 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Civil liability is not the only concern of BP, Transocean and Haliburton, the three companies involved in a Gulf drilling accident that has to date spilled some 4 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. McClatchy Newspapers is reporting the Justice Department may soon get involved in filing criminal charges against the culpable parties. Charges could be filed under a number of environmental laws, including the Clean Air and Water Acts. McClatchy reports:
"There is no question there'll be an enforcement action," said David M. Uhlmann, who headed the Justice Department's environmental crimes section for seven years during the Clinton and Bush administrations. "And, it's very likely that there will be at least some criminal charges brought." Such a likelihood has broad legal implications for BP and the two other companies involved - not the least of which is the amount of money any responsible party could be required to pay. The White House is asking Congress to lift the current $75 million cap on liability under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, but there's no cap on criminal penalties. In fact, prosecutors in such cases can seek twice the cost of environmental and economic damages resulting from the spill. While Attorney General Eric Holder has confirmed that Justice Department lawyers are helping the agencies involved in the oil spill inquiry with legal questions, department officials have refused to detail what their role entails.
But Uhlmann and other experts said it's likely prosecutors are already poring over evidence from the spill because under the Clean Water and Air Acts and other federal laws aimed at protecting migratory birds, an accidental oil spill of this magnitude could at least result in misdemeanor negligence charges.