BP Oil Spill Trial Begins Today: Will They Be Held Accountable?
By Andy Rowell
Today, nearly three years after BP’s disastrous Deepwater Horizon spill, which claimed eleven lives and led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history, the company is finally due in the dock.
Yesterday, the U.S. Justice Department and the oil giant were said to be in last-minute efforts to avoid what could be a year-long trial. But with no deal announced, it looks like it is finally going to trial.
Everything about this trial will be huge. There are 11 teams of lawyers. Thousands of pages of exhibits have been filed, and 80 witnesses will be called.
Our old friend and ex-BP boss, Tony Hayward, will give an appearance, although not in person as many in the Gulf States would like, but in a cowardly videotaped deposition.
A settlement is complicated by the demands of the five Gulf region states affected by the spill. At the heart of the trial is whether BP was “grossly negligent,” a loosely defined legal term which will have the lawyers contorting into knots to try and prove or disprove. Indeed the Financial Times argues that the distinction between the two is “not clearly established in U.S. law.”
If BP is found to just be “negligent,” under the Clean Water Act, the penalties are $1,100 per barrel, however if “gross negligence” is proven then it is $4,300 per barrel. If found guilty of gross negligence, BP would be liable for as much as $17.6 billion in Clean Water Act fines.
However, in addition, the Gulf states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida are demanding an additional $34 billion in damages under the Oil Pollution Act.
The first phase of the trial is to apportion blame for the disaster and could take three months just to determine the “gross negligent” part of the legal action. The second phase of the trial will determine exactly how much oil was spilled in order to calculate environmental fines. The third phase will deal with environmental and economic damages.
But we already know BP is to blame. We already know that BP was grossly negligent. Eleven lost lives and some 4.9 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf tell you that. Last year the U.S. argued BP had a “culture of corporate recklessness” and had acted with “gross negligence or willful misconduct."
According to the plaintiffs, BP was over-budget and behind schedule for its Macondo well, so the oil giant cut corners and ignored tests showing unsafe pressure levels as it tried to complete the project.
BP was not alone in being at fault. Halliburton’s cement job was woefully defective Transocean didn’t behave any better by disabling safety systems and failing to maintain the rig adequately.
Indeed all three are grossly negligent, according to Steve Herman a lead attorney for the plaintiffs: “We believe that there is overwhelming evidence that BP, Transocean and Halliburton were all grossly negligent, and we look forward to introducing that evidence at trial.”
Another pushing for the trail is Luther Strange, the attorney-general for Alabama, “We are very anxious for the trial to start on Monday,” he told the Financial Times. “We have been working very closely with the U.S. government and we think we have a very strong case to prove gross negligence.”
The U.S. will also pursue a finding of gross negligence, Wyn Hornbuckle, the Justice Department spokesman, wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg: “We intend to prove that BP was grossly negligent and that the company engaged in willful misconduct in causing this disastrous oil spill,” he said.
For BP, all the wriggling and half-truths surrounding the spill have to stop. The oil giant has to finally come clean. “BP can hire all the smiling faces they can find for their commercials, but in court it’s a game-changer,” Garret Graves, the chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of the state of Louisiana, told the BBC. “They will have to start telling the truth."
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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed a sweeping climate bill on Thursday that would have put the commonwealth on a path to eliminating carbon emissions by 2050.
By Ajit Niranjan
World leaders and businesses are not putting enough money into adapting to dangerous changes in the climate and must "urgently step up action," according to a report published Thursday by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Adaptation Has a Long Way to Go<p>The Adaptation Gap Report, now in its 5th year, finds "huge gaps" between what world leaders agreed to do under the 2015 <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/5-years-paris-climate-agreement/a-55901139" target="_blank">Paris Agreement</a> and what they need to do to keep their citizens safe from climate change.</p><p>A review by the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative of almost 1,700 examples of climate adaptation found that a third were in the early stages of implementation — and only 3% had reached the point of reducing risks.</p><p>Disasters like storms and droughts have grown stronger than they should be because people have warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels and chopping down rainforests. The world has heated by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution and is on track to warm by about 3°C by the end of the century.</p><p>If world leaders <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-change-performance-index-how-far-have-we-come/a-55846406" target="_blank">deliver on recent pledges</a> to bring emissions to <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/joe-bidens-climate-pledges-are-they-realistic/a-56173821" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">net-zero</a> by the middle of the century, they could almost limit warming to 2°C. The target of the Paris Agreement, however, is to reach a target well below that — ideally 1.5°C. </p><p>There are two ways, scientists say, to lessen the pain that warming will bring: mitigating climate change by cutting carbon pollution and adapting to the hotter, less stable world it brings.</p>
The Cost of Climate Adaptation<p>About three-quarters of the world's countries have national plans to adapt to climate change, according to the report, but most lack the regulations, incentives and funding to make them work.</p><p>More than a decade ago, rich countries most responsible for climate change pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 in climate finance for poorer countries. UNEP says it is "impossible to answer" whether that goal has been met, while an OECD study published in November found that between 2013 and 2018, the target sum had not once been achieved. Even in 2018, which recorded the highest level of contributions, rich countries were still $20 billion short.</p><p>The yearly adaptation costs for developing countries alone are estimated at $70 billion. This figure is expected to at least double by the end of the decade as temperatures rise, and will hit $280-500 billion by 2050, according to the report.</p><p>But failing to adapt is even more expensive.</p><p>When powerful storms like cyclones Fani and Bulbul struck South Asia, early-warning systems allowed governments to move millions of people out of danger at short notice. Storms of similar strength that have hit East Africa, like <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/zimbabwe-after-cyclone-idai-building-climate-friendly-practices/a-54251885" target="_blank">cyclones Idai</a> and Kenneth, have proved more deadly because fewer people were evacuated before disaster struck.</p><p>The Global Commission on Adaptation estimated in 2019 that a $1.8 trillion investment in early warning systems, buildings, agriculture, mangroves and water resources could reap $7.1 trillion in benefits from economic activity and avoided costs when disasters strike.</p>
Exploring Nature-Based Solutions<p>The report also highlights how restoring nature can protect people from climate change while benefiting local communities and ecology.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-fires-risk-climate-change-bushfires-australia-california-extreme-weather-firefighters/a-54817927" target="_blank">Wildfires</a>, for instance, could be made less punishing by restoring grasslands and regularly burning the land in controlled settings. Indigenous communities from Australia to Canada have done this for millennia in a way that encourages plant growth while reducing the risk of uncontrolled wildfires. Reforestation, meanwhile, can stop soil erosion and flooding during heavy rainfall while trapping carbon and protecting wildlife.</p><p>In countries like Brazil and Malaysia, governments could better protect coastal homes from floods and storms by restoring <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/mudflats-mangroves-and-marshes-the-great-coastal-protectors/a-50628747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mangroves</a> — tangled trees that grow in tropical swamps. As well as anchoring sediments and absorbing the crash of waves, mangroves can store carbon, help fish populations grow and boost local economies through tourism. </p><p>While nature-based solutions are often cheaper than building hard infrastructure, their funding makes up a "tiny fraction" of adaptation finance, the report authors wrote. An analysis of four global climate funds that spent $94 billion on adaptation projects found that just $12 billion went to nature-based solutions and little of this was spent implementing projects on the ground.</p><p>But little is known about their long-term effectiveness. At higher temperatures, the effects of climate change may be so great that they overwhelm natural defenses like mangroves.</p><p>By 2050, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/rising-sea-levels-should-we-let-the-ocean-in-a-50704953/a-50704953" target="_blank">coastal floods</a> that used to hit once a century will strike many cities every year, according to a 2019 report on oceans by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the gold standard on climate science. This could force dense cities on low-lying coasts to build higher sea walls, like in Indonesia and South Korea, or evacuate entire communities from sinking islands, like in Fiji.</p><p>It's not a case of replacing infrastructure, said Matthias Garschagen, a geographer at Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany and IPCC author, who was not involved in the UNEP report. "The case for nature-based solutions is often misinterpreted as a battle... but they're part of a toolkit that we've ignored for too long."</p>
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