NEW ORLEANS – A Texas lawyer “reluctantly” has asked a federal court to delay or assign minimum water pollution fines to oil giant BP, saying he wants to make sure the company is not rendered insolvent before all private damage claims are paid.
Brent Coon, of Beaumont, Texas-based Coon & Associates, filed the request with U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier’s court on Monday. The lawyer represents thousands of claimants who still await payment for damages associated with the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
In an unusual move, Coon said he is siding with BP, asking Barbier to employ the lightest fines per barrel possible against the oil company.
Barbier is currently mulling how much per barrel to fine BP under the federal Oil Pollution Act–the company faces a potential combined penalty of nearly $14 billion.
In his pleadings, Coon said he is worried that the money BP has already paid to mitigate the spill–about $40 billion–combined with low oil prices and a large fine under the Oil Pollution Act could put the company out of business, leaving thousands of claimants uncompensated. Coon also stated in his pleading that individual claimants should be made whole before the federal government.
“While BP should not be indirectly rewarded for the extensive nature of the harm caused by their conduct, plaintiffs should not be further indirectly harmed,” Coon wrote. “A finding which could clearly exceed $10 billion dollars against a company that is already reeling from the extensive costs associated to the remediation, reparations, and restitution process, could pose significant financial damage to a company that is simultaneously dealing with curtailed revenue generation due to collapsing world markets for petroleum based products.”
In a 10-page memorandum supporting his motion, Coon said he is not attempting to absolve the energy company from responsibility for the spill. However, he does echo something BP has alluded to in the past–that there is a tipping point where the costs of spill mitigation make it more logical for the company to simply declare bankruptcy.
BP is facing up to $13.7 billion in fines of up to $4,300 per barrel for each barrel of oil that spilled as a result of the Deepwater Horizon accident. In a February hearing, BP argued that a strict reading of the Oil Pollution Act caps the maximum per barrel fine at $3,000 per barrel, but the U.S. government is pressing for an inflation adjusted penalty of $4,300 per barrel. The Deepwater Horizon Plaintiff's Steering Committee, a group of 17 lawyers that oversees the settlement, is also pressing Barbier to impose the maximum fine.
This is not the first time Coon has opposed the settlement overseers. From the beginning he has opposed the settlement and he has continuously criticized settlement administrators in the past for being too slow to pay claims.
“[I]f this Court deliberatively moves forward and renders judgment against BP for the Department of Justice claims at this time, Plaintiffs reluctantly join BP in their position to set these damages and fines at the minimum amounts available pursuant to the guidelines and schedules as set by the Clean Water Act,” Coon wrote in his filing.