By Farron Cousins
An earlier version of this article appeared on DeSmogBlog.com.
After a ruling earlier this week by a federal judge in New Orleans, BP now holds the record for the largest criminal penalty ever imposed by the federal government. The penalty, totaling $4 billion, is strictly related to the criminal conduct of the company that led to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico.
As part of the deal, BP agreed to plead to guilty to a total of 14 counts of criminal conduct, which includes charges of felony manslaughter. However, as CNN.com points out, the charges are against the company, not any individuals involved, so prison time for those responsible will not be part of the deal.
The $4 billion criminal penalty does not affect the settlement deals for the victims along the Gulf Coast, nor does it include any environmental fines for the company. Those are separate cases that are still being worked out, and will result in several billions of dollars more for the company.
The Agence France-Presse (via Alternet) has more on the pending litigation against the oil giant:
BP is set to return to the Louisiana courthouse on February 25 for a mammoth trial consolidating scores of remaining lawsuits stemming from the worst environmental disaster to strike the United States.
It must also still resolve a civil case on environmental fines which could amount to as much as $18 billion if gross negligence is found. It also remains on the hook for billions in economic damages, including the cost of environmental rehabilitation.
But the financial penalty could be just the beginning for the company on the criminal side. As of this writing, two company executives are facing a total of 23 counts in a federal indictment.
The criminal penalty against the company, along with the pending indictments, should provide some solace to those along the Gulf Coast, and even others throughout the company, who were hoping that someone at some level of the company would be held responsible for these actions. In the months following the oil leak into the Gulf, Facebook groups, news reports, and citizen action groups called for some form of criminal justice against the company, and while no one is sitting in prison, the $4 billion penalty is certainly a good start.
Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer Magazine, a contributing writer at DeSmogBlog.com, and producer of Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.