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Editorial: BP court case still causing waves

Last Modified: Friday, August 16, 2013 5:47 PM As the tropics begin heating up for the traditional height of hurricane season, so, too, is the court case related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and environmental calamity in the Gulf of Mexico.

Round 1 in the case focused on the events leading up to the explosion. Round 2, expected to get under way in federal court on Sept. 30, will determine the reaction of the rig’s owner, BP, following the blowout and its liability in the disaster that spilled nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will be charged with determining whether BP was ‘‘grossly negligent’’ or ‘‘negligent’’, a ruling that likely will affect billions of dollars in fines that the oil company will have to fork over.

Those fines that will be assessed under the Clean Water Act could range between $4.5 billion and $17.6 billion. The five states that’s coastlines were affected by the spill — Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida — will share in the fines, with our state reaping the biggest payoff. The judge’s decision could be mean a windfall that could be used not only to repair the damage caused by the spill, but also decades of coastal erosion that has degraded Louisiana’s wetlands.

With the stakes that high, the posturing has already begun.

Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, recently said, ‘‘The Gulf has bounced back really well. And I’d like to think that we played a big role.’’

Scientists and Gulf officials heartily disagree. The facts are on their side:

• Louisiana state officials note that 200 miles of shoreline are still polluted by oil.

• Earlier this summer, a 40,000-pound tar of mat and oiled sand and grasses appeared near the Grand Terre barrier island. As a result, waters around the island were closed to fishing.

• Research by the National Academy of Sciences has uncovered increased wetland loss and marsh mortality because of the spill.

• Scientists have found evidence of petroleum compounds and the chemical used to clean up the oil in the eggs of White Pelicans that winter on the Gulf Coast and nest in Minnesota. That could affect the survival, development and productivity of the chicks from affected eggs. Scientists say the full extent of the damage to the pelican population will not be known for three or more years.

• More than 900 bottlenosed dolphins have been found dead on the Gulf Coast since the spill. That’s believed to be only a portion of the ones that have died because many of the corpses never make it to shore and are never found. Infant dolphins were found dead at almost four times historical rates during the first four months of 2013, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

• With the oil still working its way through the food chain, scientists cannot predict when the complete health of the Gulf will be restored.

Dudley’s remarks may be understandable because his first responsibility is to the company’s stockholders. But they would also be comical if it weren’t for the pain and misery caused by the spill.

Dudley cited no data in his observation.

“In contrast to the story BP is selling in its slick national advertising campaigns, we in Louisiana know better: The Gulf has not been fixed. BP should, and can, pay for the environmental damages it caused,’’ said Steve Cochran, director for Environmental Defense Fund’s Mississippi River Delta Restoration.

The science undeniably shows that the ecosystem still suffers from the effects of the largest environmental disaster in the Gulf’s history.

No amount of public relations or wishing or whistling by Dudley past a graveyard of dead, dying or sick wildlife, stained marshland and fouled habitats can alter that fact.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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