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June 2010: A boom floats in the water as contract workers from BP use skimmers to clean oil from a marsh near Venice, La.
There's mixed reaction this afternoon to the news that BP has agreed to a deal with federal authorities to pay $4.5 billion in criminal and civil penalties related to the 2010 Gulf Oil spill.
Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, calls the fines and penalties appropriate. "People died, BP lied to Congress, and millions of barrels of oil poured into the Gulf," he says. "This steep cost to BP will provide the Gulf coast some of the funds needed to restore the region, and will hopefully deliver some comfort and closure to the families and businesses affected by the spill."
But the news is little comfort to some families. Baton Rouge attorney Chris Jones lost his 28-year-old brother, Gordon Jones, in the Deepwater Horizon explosion. He says BP has never apologized to his family, and is only cutting a deal with the federal government to resume business.
"I just want Gordon back but that's not going to happen," Jones says. "Unfortunately all BP has to do is write a check and they're back in operation."
On the Gulf Coast, the settlement comes as a reminder of what the region suffered, both economically and environmentally when BP's blown-out Macondo well spewed uncontrolled for nearly 3 months.
"You would want to think it was really just an accident," says Mike Voisin, a seventh-generation Louisiana oysterman who chairs the Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition. "But if things happened that were criminal than it makes it maybe more than just an accident."
Voisin says it's a relief that federal prosecutors are holding BP accountable, and says all the parties should work diligently to make sure a disaster of this magnitude never happens again.
Today's agreement only covers federal criminal charges and civil charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission. BP remains in talks with the Justice Department and state governments to resolve a civil lawsuit that could lead to billions of dollars in additional fines and charges under the Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Act.
Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation, calls the criminal settlement "a good down payment" on restoration of the Gulf and its communities. "We look forward to working toward a full settlement that will not only hold BP and all other parties responsible for the devastation of the Gulf oil disaster, but deter future violations by sending a clear message that America holds reckless polluters fully accountable," he says.
In Alabama, where beaches were oiled and the state's tourist industry suffered a financial blow, Attorney General Luther Strange says he's still preparing to press the state's case that BP was grossly negligent. "BP's criminal acts levied economic and environmental damages of historic proportions upon Alabama, and these damages are not covered under today's agreement," Strange says.
A New Orleans federal judge has set a February trial date for the federal and state civil claims against BP. Separately, the company has agreed to pay an estimated $7.8 billion dollars to settlement economic and medical claims brought individuals and businesses affected by the oil spill.
(NPR's Debbie Elliott is based in Alabama. Click here to see some of her reports on the Gulf Oil Spill.)