Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim Delivers Remarks at the ALI-CLE Environmental Law Conference in Washington, D.C.
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good morning and thank you all for being here. I am joined by Secretary [Penny] Pritzker from the Department of Commerce; Secretary [Tom] Vilsack from the Department of Agriculture; Administrator [Gina] McCarthy of the Environmental Protection Agency; Deputy Secretary [Michael] Connor from the Department of Interior; Admiral [Paul] Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, who served in 2010 as the Federal On-Scene Coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; and Assistant Attorney General [John] Cruden of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. We are here today to announce a major step forward in our effort to deliver justice to the Gulf region in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy – the largest environmental disaster our nation has ever endured.
Five and a half years ago, the world watched as the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, burned and sank into the Gulf of Mexico. Deep below the surface, BP’s Macondo well had blown out and was gushing oil into the Gulf. The oil began spreading hundreds of miles from the well, coating the sea floor, forming vast slicks across the surface and staining more than 1,300 miles of coastline. With that explosion, lives were lost. The Gulf was flooded with oil. And the Gulf coast way of life – a uniquely American way of life – was hanging by a thread. Over the course of nearly three months, the Gulf region was inundated with more than three million barrels of oil. And by the time the torrent stopped, it had inflicted unprecedented harm on the economy, the environment and the population of the Gulf region. Ecosystems were disrupted, businesses were shuttered and countless men and women lost their livelihoods and their sense of security.
That’s why, in December of 2010, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against BP to hold the company accountable and to provide vital relief for the people of the Gulf region. That’s exactly what we did. At trial, our litigation team proved that the spill was the result of BP’s gross negligence. But our efforts did not stop with the issue of liability. Ensuring that liability translated into real relief for all the inhabitants of the Gulf – people, businesses, fish and wildlife – was the essential next step. Today, I am pleased to announce that we have secured a historic resolution of our pending claims against BP totaling more than $20 billion – making it the largest settlement with a single entity in American history. The resolution includes civil claims under the Clean Water Act, for which BP has agreed to pay a $5.5 billion penalty – the largest civil penalty in the history of environmental law. It includes natural resources damages claims under the Oil Pollution Act, for which BP has agreed to pay $7.1 billion – on top of the $1 billion it previously committed to pay for early restoration work. And it includes economic damages claims, for which BP has agreed to pay $4.9 billion to the five Gulf states and up to $1 billion to local governments.
Once approved by the court, this agreement will launch one of the largest environmental restoration efforts the world has ever seen. Under the RESTORE Act, 80 percent of the $5.5 billion Clean Water Act penalty will go to help the Gulf recover from the injuries it has suffered. In addition, BP’s payments for natural resources damages will help fund Gulf restoration projects that will revitalize damaged habitats, such as coastal wetlands and support the revival of wildlife populations, including marine mammals, sea turtles, oysters and birds. This work will be guided by a comprehensive restoration plan that we are also announcing today and which was developed by a Trustee Council made up of four federal agencies and trustees from all five Gulf states.
Taken as a whole, this resolution is a strong and fitting response. BP is receiving the punishment it deserves, while also providing critical compensation for the injuries it caused to the environment and the economy of the Gulf region. The steep penalty should inspire BP and its peers to take every measure necessary to ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again. And the resolution’s focus on restoring the vitality of the affected areas will add to the important relief work already underway, will provide significant resources to assist the region’s ongoing recovery and will help to ensure that Gulf communities emerge from this disaster stronger and more resilient than ever before.
I am proud that the Department of Justice has helped lead the way from tragedy to opportunity. I am thankful for the many partnerships that were crucial to achieving this result. And I am confident that the resolution we have announced today will restore, preserve and protect the precious Gulf environment for many generations to come.
Today’s extraordinary resolution would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the Deepwater Horizon trial team, which is composed of remarkable women and men from the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and also our Civil Division. I would also like to recognize and thank our outstanding partners at the EPA; at the Departments of Commerce, Agriculture, Interior and Homeland Security; and in state and local governments throughout the Gulf region. Finally, I would like to acknowledge my predecessor, Eric Holder, who launched this case five years ago and faithfully supervised it for the remainder of his tenure as Attorney General.
At this time, I’d like to introduce Secretary [Penny] Pritzker, who will provide additional details on today’s announcement.