The BP oil disaster that sent an estimated 4.9 million gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico for three months after an April 2010 oil rig explosion is neither gone nor forgotten. BP is still paying settlements on the long-term effects of the Macondo well’s spill on the fragile ecosystem as well as paying millions in criminal fines. And the legal cases continue: On Jan. 9, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court had wrongfully dismissed the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD)’s legal claim seeking full disclosure of which chemicals spilled into the ocean during the disaster. Eugene attorney Charlie Tebbutt is the lawyer for the case.
Back in November, BP pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the amount of oil that spilled into the Gulf, Tebbutt says, and he adds, “Just as BP has lied to Congress about the amount of oil that was released into the environment, BP continues to withhold information from the public about the amount of toxic chemicals that were on board when the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank.”
Tebbutt and CBD filed suit in summer of 2010, only months after the disaster, seeking $20 billion in penalties from BP and Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon, to be used for gulf restoration, and the suit sought information on the amount of oil spilled, as well as identification and amounts of all toxic pollutants.
CBD’s case was dismissed by the district court on June 16, 2011, a decision the conservation group then appealed.
While it reversed the district court’s decision on the chemicals under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, the appellate court upheld the dismissal of CBD’s Clean Water Act claims on the grounds that the claims were mooted when the well was capped. Tebbutt says, “With regard to finding that CBD’s Clean Water Act claims are moot, this means that no citizen ever could pursue a citizen suit against an oil company for an oil spill, because an oil spill will eventually stop.” He adds, “It’s absurd to think Congress intended such a result.” The Clean Water Act, which Congress legislated 40 years ago to protect the nation’s waters, allows citizens to sue polluters and has resulted in a significant decline in industrial pollution.