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article imageSierra Club to Obama: ‘Protect public interest’ in BP settlement

By Lynn Herrmann     Feb 8, 2012 in Politics
Washington - As a possible settlement emerges between BP, the Obama administration and coastal states impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Sierra Club is urging the White House to ensure a proper Gulf Coast recovery and to protect public interest.
The Sierra Club, one of the country’s leading environmental groups, is calling on Obama to take strong action against BP in any possible claims settlement of the Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Act over the oil company’s devastating Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010.
In a letter sent to Obama on Monday, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said, “It is of paramount importance to our members and supporters that any potential settlement between the United States, BP and the other responsible parties, serve as both a mechanism for comprehensive restoration of region’s natural resources, and as a deterrent to prevent future oil spill disasters in the Gulf of Mexico and off our nation’s coasts.”
With the public basically being shut out of the legal process against BP - all of the lawsuits, including economic losses, injury claims and environmental violations against the oil giant have been folded into one lawsuit - the Sierra Club is requesting specific actions be included in any settlement pertaining to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.
In its letter to the president, the environmental group has addressed six primary issues requiring the attention of all parties involved before any settlement can be reached.
First, it is calling on establishment of a Natural Resource Damage Fund for long-term monitoring and restoration of the Gulf’s ecosystem in a manner that meets Natural Resource Damages Assessment (NRDA) regulations. These monies would be assessed by the Natural Resource Trustees.
Second, establish a fund of no less than $10 billion for executing the Early Restoration Strategy released in December 2011 by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, with $500 million separated into an interest-bearing account and earmarked for long-term monitoring of restoration projects.
Third, a separate fund should be established in which responsible parties each contribute $20 billion for “gross negligence” contributing to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. This fund would be used for Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) to “enhance” natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Sierra Club notes these enhancement projects should include long-term monitoring and independent scientific studies (i.e. third-party, peer reviewed research not performed by responsible parties or oil and gas industry). These projects would be funded by three percent of the SEP fund, or no less than $600 million.
SC notes $20 billion is the minimum funding required to adequately address the full scope of impacts from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and the fund must be of a magnitude which carries out the punitive function of Clean Water Act penalties, designed to deter “irresponsible, reckless oil and gas industry behavior” which might create another oil spill disaster.
Fourth, a broad re-opener provision should be included in any settlement. This provision will allow the government to re-open the settlement for at least 30 years, under the broadest of circumstances.
The re-opener provision would require responsible parties to reimburse the U.S. for unforeseen, latent damages and it should require Trustees to avoid using language referring to latent injuries which “could not reasonably have been known” or “reasonably have been anticipated.”
This re-opener is based on uncertainties linked to oil spills and their impacts on future generations of species, and the letter pointed to the collapse of the Pacific herring fishery four years after the Exxon Valdez spill. Decades later, the herring’s population has yet to recover.
Fifth, establishing and funding operations for a Gulf of Mexico Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council should be part of any settlement. This council would guarantee formal public oversight and industry accountability of current and future offshore drilling operations in the Gulf.
Last, the letter urges any settlement comply with Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice, helping facilitate relief and recovery efforts of the Gulf Coast and its communities.
Some legal experts predict BP will reach a settlement before the February 27 trial date, for an estimated $20 billion to $25 billion, including civil and criminal violations.
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