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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Dec. 16, 201012:00 PM EST

Feds suing BP over spill


by David Royse

The News Service of Florida

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and other federal officials announced Wednesday that the government is suing BP and eight other defendants, seeking to recover damages from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill earlier this year.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New Orleans, alleges that BP and contractors failed to take precautions to prevent the April 20 rig explosion that caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history, failed to monitor the well’s conditions and to use proper equipment and materials.

“We intend to prove that these violations caused or contributed to this massive oil spill, and that the defendants are therefore responsible, under the Oil Pollution Act, for government removal costs, economic losses and environmental damages,” Holder said in a news conference in Washington.

“As our investigations move forward, Justice Department attorneys will continue to work closely with our federal, state, and local partners to get to the bottom of what caused this disaster and to ensure that those responsible are held accountable and brought to justice,” Holder said. “The American people, and especially the people of the Gulf Coast, deserve nothing less.”

The company, in a statement provided to the News Service, said the suit was expected.

“The filing is solely a statement of the government’s allegations and does not in any manner constitute any finding of liability or any judicial finding that the allegations have merit,” BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said in the statement. “BP will answer the government’s allegations in a timely manner and will continue to cooperate with all government investigations and inquiries.”

Beaudo said that BP is the only party involved in the spill that has “stepped up to pay” for spill-related cleanup. The company has set aside $20 billion to pay “all legitimate claims.”

“We took these steps before any legal determination of responsibility and will continue to fulfill our commitments in the Gulf as the legal process unfolds,” Beaudo said.

While the government didn’t name an amount it is seeking, its suit said it is seeking “civil penalties for each barrel of oil that the defendants discharged into the Gulf of Mexico.”

In addition to pursuing damages under the oil pollution act, the government is also seeking civil penalties under the Clean Water Act, which prohibits unauthorized discharges of oil.

“We allege that the defendants named in this lawsuit were in violation of the (Clean Water) Act throughout the months that oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico,” Holder said.  “And we intend to hold them fully accountable for their violations of the law.”

BP recently announced third- quarter net income of $1.8 billion, returning it to profitability, after a record second-quarter loss.

The federal lawsuit follows the announcement earlier this week that Florida retailers are asking the oil company to spend $25 million to pay the state back for a series of sales tax holidays early next year to try to pump some money into the Panhandle economy.

Economists have said the region lost nearly a half billion dollars in revenue when tourism was stunted because of the spill.

The Florida Retail Federation said this week that it is negotiating with BP to reimburse the state for three-day sales tax holidays starting in February to try to lure people to the area.

Also on Wednesday, Florida CFO Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum renewed a call for federal Claims Administrator Kenneth Feinberg to improve the claims process for Floridians impacted by spill. Sink and McCollum said that of more than 150,000 claims filed by Florida residents, only about 40 percent have been paid.

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