Transcript: Press conference Q&A on BP’s guilty pleas to criminal charges from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Transcript of press conference Q&A on BP’s guilty pleas to criminal charges stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Nov. 15, 2012 in New Orleans:

Question: Given what has transpired, do you expect there might be a settlement on the civil case?

Attorney General Eric Holder: Well, let me answer that and then I’ll turn to Tony West, the Associate Attorney General who’s primarily responsible there.

We have been in negotiations with – I mean, I’ll pretty honest, we’ve been in negotiations with BP. We have not reached a number that I consider satisfactory in order to resolve those civil claims that we have.

We have trial that is set for February. We are planning to vigorously enforce our complaint at that time.

There is the possibility, I suppose, that present negotiations could result in a resolution. But I don’t know if anybody…

Associate Attorney General Tony West: The only thing I would add is just that, you know, as the Attorney General said repeatedly, BP is exposed to billions of dollars for the harms that they have caused to the Gulf Coast and the region. And we are prepared to take that case to trial and vigorously continue to pursue our civil case.

Question: …What’s the difference in the penalty per barrel spilled when you go into the gross negligent standard versus negligent?

Associate Attorney General Tony West: Well, on the civil side, which is where the negligence and gross negligence distinction is applicable, you have $1,100 per barrel penalty – statutory penalties – for negligence and it gets up to $4,400 per barrel for gross negligence. The difference there, of course, is standard in law and difference between violating duty of care versus wanton and reckless conduct.

Question: What does this settlement mean for the families of those who died – the 11 men – and for all those who have been impacted?

Attorney General Eric Holder: Well, I would hope that – you know, those lives are irreplaceable, and there’s nothing that we can do to bring those loved ones back. On the other hand, this is an indication – perhaps a vindication – that we have shown and the company has admitted that as a result of their actions, people died there unnecessarily. Manslaughter – I mean, manslaughter has been charged; manslaughter has been pled to. I would hope that that would bring some degree of comfort by way of explanation as to why those brave people lost their lives. But at the end of the day, we can’t bring them back. And I think what we can certainly glean from what has happened here in terms of what we have charged and what the company has pled to, those deaths were in fact unnecessary.

Question: Are any of these penalties tax deductible?

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: They are not. The Attorney General was very clear that nothing in the criminal settlement could be tax deductible nor could it be an offset to any further civil resolution, and that was a very explicit term of these agreements at the request of the Attorney General.

Question: Mr. Attorney General, you said that the criminal investigation is ongoing. Does that mean it’s still possible that other BP employees or executives will be charged in the future?

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: It’s an ongoing investigation. That’s exactly right…All I will say today is we resolved it with the company and we’ve charged three individuals, and we have an ongoing investigation.

Question: We keep hearing about the historic nature of these criminal penalties. But we heard the same thing pretty much 7 years ago in the Texas city case. It seems like environmental cases of this nature kind of fall like NFL passing records. What deterrent do you expect this to have?

Attorney General Eric Holder: Well, you have to understand the totality of what we have announced today. There are penalties that are historic in nature. A company has pled guilty to criminal felony charges – manslaughter. Individuals have been charged as well. Everything that we are capable of doing in the criminal sphere, we have done today, and this is unprecedented – both with regards to the amount of money, the fact that a company has been criminally charged, and that individuals have been charged as well. As Lanny Breuer indicated, the criminal investigation is ongoing.

I hope that this sends a clear message to those who would engage in this kind of reckless and wanton conduct that there will be a significant penalty to pay and that individuals in companies that are engaged in these kinds of activities will themselves be held responsible.

This is simply not a corporate plea. Individuals – individuals have been charged.

Question: Mr. Attorney General, do you have anything to say about a senior federal prosecutor here resigning and another one demoted because they were making comments about ongoing cases in their office?

Attorney General Eric Holder: I am aware of those charges. We are looking at them at Main Justice. Obviously, I’ve seen the press reports but I don’t think it’ll be appropriate for me to comment beyond that.

Question: Are you confident that this will change that culture at BP that was present at the time of the explosion?

Attorney General Eric Holder: I am optimistic that it will. I would hope that it will. There is a monitor in place to ensure that, in fact, that culture does change. I think that the company must be given some credit for the [inaudible] they did respond to the spill in putting together that $20 billion fund and the amounts of money that they have expended in order to fund restoration. So I think that in some ways that’s an indication that the culture – the corporate mindset has changed. But there are mechanisms in place to ensure that that change in fact is something that infuses the corporation.

Question: Could you address how this guilty plea today affect the ongoing civil litigation in determining whether this is gross negligence? Will this be a factor? And also, have you discussed with BP whether this money that they will be paying in this agreement actually comes out of the pool that they’re planning to make available for civil claims?

Associate Attorney General Tony West: So thing things. First of all, clearly the significance of this criminal plea can’t be understated, and it will have, I think, an impact on the ongoing civil case that we’re vigorously pursuing. You know, we have in our complaint alleged gross negligence on the part of BP and we feel strongly that we’ll be able to prove that case when it’s up for trial in February. In terms of the impact on any potential civil recovery, that in part is a determination that the court will make. But I think it’s something that the Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said earlier is very, very significant and that is that no part of the $4 billion that BP has agreed to pay today will be used to offset any future civil recoveries that will go to the restoration of the Gulf Coast.

Question: What are Halliburton and TransOcean’s roles in the accident at this point, both in the civil and criminal…?

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: Those investigations are ongoing so we just aren’t going to speak about that.

Question: Can you give us a state-by-state breakdown of how much money goes to each Gulf state?

Associate Attorney General Tony West: There’s a chart here which kind of illustrates a lot of this. I think the first point – and the Attorney General made this point – that one reason this is such a historic result is the vast majority of this recovery is going back to the Gulf Coast – back to the Gulf Coast states.

Now, as you all know, the Restore Act does not govern criminal penalty so it doesn’t govern how penalties are apportioned in this case. But we did look to the Restore Act as a rough guide to apportion what each state would receive under this criminal resolution.

So roughly the amount of money is, I’d say, roughly apportioned equally amongst Louisiana and the other states. You have an additional amount – significant additional amount of funds which will be devoted to restoration, barrier islands creation, and Mississippi river diversion, which you’ll find in the Louisiana master plan.

Attorney General Eric Holder: I would say that the way in which this money has been apportioned is not the way in which we apportion money at the end of a case like this. We’ve tried to be sensitive to that which Congress has expressed in the passage of the Restore Act. I spoke earlier today to Sen. [Mary] Landrieu and I also spoke to Congressman [Jo] Bonner and Sen. [Bill] Nelson as well to tell them about what we have done with regard to the distribution of the monies in connection with this settlement today.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: If we can have three answers to the same question, because the Attorney General and the Associate – you should really focus on this is the largest criminal resolution ever and it’s historic that virtually all of money will go to the benefit of the Gulf states. That is very unusual for a criminal resolution. It’s both a criminal fine and it’s punitive so it’s not like the civil resolution, but nonetheless it’s going to the different states, particularly Louisiana.

Question: How do we get here? You’ve talked about penalties but in terms of [inaudible]…what are you doing internally to [inaudible]…this doesn’t happen again? And also the oversight fund that will be distributed, how will that be monitored?

Associate Attorney General Tony West: One of the really important features of this resolution is about $350 million will be given to the National Academy of Sciences in an endowment, and the purpose of that is to improve our oil spill response, improve drilling safety measures. I think if there’s anything that we’ve learned from this great tragedy is that we can improve the way we respond to oil spills; we can improve drilling safety in the Gulf and throughout the country. And $350 million of this resolution goes just to that.

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