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BP Settles Criminal Suit Over Gulf Oil Spill

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Let's talk next about what's being described as the largest criminal fine in U.S. history. BP will pay nearly $1.3 billion for crimes associated with its 2010 drilling rig accident and oil spill, in the Gulf of Mexico. On top of that, the company will pay more than $3 billion to settle claims from the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: It's been more than two and a half years since the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill. That disaster launched a massive clean-up, and a series of investigations. Yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stood before microphones in New Orleans, to announce the latest effort at delivering justice to those affected.

ERIC HOLDER: BP has agreed to plead guilty to all 14 criminal charges; including responsibility for the deaths of 11 people, and the events that led to an unprecedented environmental catastrophe.

BRADY: BP is pleading guilty to felony manslaughter, and admits to obstructing a congressional investigation. Three managers at the company also will face criminal charges. BP declined a request for a recorded interview. In a written statement, the oil giant's chief executive, Bob Dudley, said the deal reached with the government demonstrates that BP has accepted responsibility for its actions. He also said the company deeply regrets the tragic loss of life caused by the accident.

Twenty-eight-year-old Gordon Jones was among the crewmen killed. While the criminal charges are some comfort, there's another issue his brother, Chris Jones, can't get out of his mind. He says BP never apologized to his family. Speaking by cellphone, Jones says the company had opportunities to do that.

CHRIS JONES: When we testified before Congress, when a representative of the BP was two seats down from us; to look us in the eye and say, "I'm sorry for your loss" - that has never happened.

BRADY: In the company's statement released yesterday, BP executive Bob Dudley did apologize for his company's role in the Deepwater Horizon accident. But that's clearly, not enough for Jones.

JONES: I've read their press release, and I don't think that they're truly sorry for what happened. I think they're sorry that they lost a lot of money.

BRADY: BP estimates this agreement will increase its total spill costs to almost $42 billion. Under this settlement, the Securities and Exchange Commission will receive about $500 million. The SEC accused BP of low-balling the amount of oil that spilled into the gulf.

The National Academy of Sciences will receive $350 million, under the agreement; and a group called the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will get nearly $2.4 billion. Speaking just after the agreement was made public, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu said that last announcement surprised her.

SENATOR MARY LANDRIEU: I've been doing a lot of studying up, the last couple of hours, and happy to see that they enjoy a good reputation. I was a little shocked that only one person on their entire, 30-person board is from the Gulf Coast. Most everybody's from Connecticut and Washington and Illinois and Wyoming. That was a little disconcerting.

BRADY: Landrieu says she's impressed with the foundation's track record, and she hopes board members understand the needs of her region.

This is not the end of the BP case. A trial to determine civil penalties, is still scheduled for February. Jackie Savitz, with the group Oceana, estimates under the Clean Water Act, BP is liable for $20 billion in fines, and up to 30 billion under the Oil Pollution Act.

JACKIE SAVITZ: And so when you start adding those up, there's still tens of billions of dollars on the table that BP owes the public; that we hope the Department of Justice will continue to pursue and eventually, get.

BRADY: Attorney General Holder says there have been negotiations with BP on civil penalties, but no agreement yet.

Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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