Lawsuit seeks damages under organized crime laws
Oil firm BP “manipulated” the Bush administration into softening regulation of oil drilling, leading to the environmental disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, a lawsuit filed in a Florida courtroom alleges.
The suit, which describes the Gulf spill as “an ecological Armageddon that could literally destroy the marine and coastal environment and way of life for generation of Americans,” was filed on behalf of a Pensacola Beach property developer who says he and countless other property owners along the Gulf coast will lose large sums of money as the spill devalues their properties, reports the Pensacola News-Journal.
Lawyer Mike Papantonio, an occasional TV pundit who is leading the lawsuit, makes no bones about the fact his client sees the Bush administration as being primarily responsible for the spill.
“The only way that happened was because there was a concerted effort to take all of the teeth out of regulations,” he said, as quoted at the News-Journal.
In an unusual twist, the civil suit is being pressed under the US’s RICO Act, a federal law passed in 1970 designed to deal with organized crime. In effect, the lawsuit alleges that BP and the Bush administration acted as a crime syndicate.
The suit refers to “a 2000 retreat for government officials hosted by former Vice President Dick Cheney with the goal of drafting a national energy policy,” reports the News-Journal. As Raw Story reported in April, Anne Womack Kolton, a former press secretary for Cheney who once defended the secretive energy policy meetings, has been hired by BP for its public relations effort on the oil spill.
Some legal experts doubt the RICO tactic will work.
“It’s quite unusual to say that the [criminal] enterprise is created between private industry and the government,” Stetson University law professor Michael Allen told the News-Journal. “I’m not sure RICO sweeps that broadly and I am not sure what legally this action will bring to the table considering all of the other actions out there.”
Allen was evidently referring to the fact there are now nearly 200 lawsuits pending against BP over the oil spill, the US’s largest environmental disaster to date.
An inspector-general’s report earlier this year indicated that the federal agency charged with overseeing oil reserves, the Minerals Management Service, largely failed to live up to the most minimal expectations of it. The report showed the MMS to have allowed oil companies to fill in their own inspection reports, and at least one MMS inspector had admitted to a methamphetamine addiction that caused him to be high while carrying out inspections.
The report also found that, from 2005 to 2007, MMS inspectors accepted numerous gifts, including meals and tickets to sporting events, from at least one oil company.