DOJ to initiate criminal probe of BP Gulf oil spill

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] announced Tuesday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] is reviewing whether any criminal or civil laws were violated by BP resulting in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill [BBC backgrounder]. Holder cited several statutes being examined by government lawyers including the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 [materials]. The Clean Water Act includes both civil and criminal penalties, and the Oil Pollution Act can be used to hold parties liable for cleanup costs. Holder reiterated [statement] the government's commitment to ensuring that justice is served:

[E]very cent of taxpayer money will be repaid and damages to the environment and wildlife will be reimbursed. We will make certain that those responsible clean up the mess they have made and restore or replace the natural resources lost or injured in this tragedy. And we will prosecute to the full extent any violations of the law.
US President Barack Obama [official website] echoed Holder's statements after meeting with members of a newly-created independent commission [JURIST report] tasked with investigating the spill. He stressed the importance of the commission [statement] in examining the spill and its causes in order to ensure that a similar crisis does not happen in the future. He also stressed that the commission has been instructed to "follow the facts wherever they may lead."

Calls for criminal and civil actions have been mounting against BP, as evidence of the oil giant's lack of proper compliance with regulations has come out. Last month, DC-based consumer advocacy organization Food and Water Watch (FWW) [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] in a US district court against the US Department of Interior (DOI) and the Minerals Management Service (MMS) [official websites] for an injunction to halt drilling at the BP Atlantis Facility [corporate website], another BP Gulf of Mexico site. The Obama administration has asked DOI Secretary Kenneth Salazar [official profile] to conduct a "top-to-bottom" reform of the MMS [speech text] and ordered immediate inspections of all deep water operations in the Gulf. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a result of an oil well blowout that caused an explosion 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf. The amount of oil spilled into the Gulf is part of an ongoing debate but the resulting oil slick has covered at least 2,500 square miles. The White House is keeping a daily chronology of events [text].

 

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