The BP oil spill trial is set to begin in three weeks, but the company and negotiators for federal and state governments are frantically working on a settlement so they won’t have to leave the fate of billions of dollars in potential pollution fines and spill damage payments in the hands of U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The case is scheduled to begin Experts say any settlement would have to be a “global settlement” — one that will resolve federal civil fines under the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and other laws; compensate federal and state governments for damages to natural resources, and settle any criminal violations, as well.
A whole other settlement effort deals with the thousands of private claims that are also part of the sweeping litigation, but those claims, expected to amount to a few billion dollars at most, are a relatively small part of the case. David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor who headed the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section for seven years, predicts there’s a 70 percent to 80 percent chance that BP will settle with the government before Feb. 27, for both criminal and civil violations, for between $20 billion and $25 billion. BP has already spent $23 billion on response, cleanup and compensation for economic losses, so a $25 billion settlement with the government would bring BP’s total bill to $48 billion.