Justice Investigations Into Oil Spill Please La. Lawmakers

Posted June 2, 2010 at 6:04pm

Attorney General Eric Holder is drawing cheers from Gulf Coast lawmakers in both parties for moving ahead with criminal and civil investigations into the causes of the BP oil spill.

Holder said Tuesday that his team went to the Gulf Coast to meet with attorneys general and U.S. attorneys in the region to review legal options for penalizing BP and others for damage caused by the ongoing oil leak.

“We must … ensure that anyone found responsible for this spill is held accountable,” Holder said during a New Orleans media event. “That means enforcing the appropriate civil — and, if warranted, criminal — authorities to the full extent of the law.”

Justice Department attorneys are focusing their review on a handful of environmental laws that carry a criminal component: the Clean Water Act, which incurs civil and criminal penalties; the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which can be used to hold parties liable for cleanup costs and reimbursement for government efforts; and the Migratory Bird Treaty and Endangered Species acts, which provide penalties for injury and death to wildlife and bird species. Charges may also be brought up under other “traditional criminal statutes.”

Holder said there is “a wide range of possible violations” under those statutes, and his staff has already instructed BP and others to preserve any documents that may shed light on what led to the April 20 drill rig explosion that caused the spill and killed 11 workers.

Sen. David Vitter thanked Holder for taking an aggressive stance on the issue.

“As I’ve said for weeks, we need to uncover all the facts and follow them wherever they lead,” the Louisiana Republican said. “If they suggest illegal activity by BP or anyone else, that should be aggressively prosecuted.”

Rep. Charlie Melancon said there is already reason to believe that BP and government agencies “showed a reckless disregard” for the livelihoods of Louisiana families and the safety of the region’s wetlands.

“Criminal and civil investigations are the right step forward,” the Louisiana Democrat said. “Anyone who is found responsible for causing the deaths of the 11 people and the largest oil spill in our nation’s history should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”