Attorney General Eric Holder said he met with federal and state prosecutors in New Orleans Tuesday to discuss the possibility of legal action against oil giant BP for the Gulf disaster.
Holder told reporters "anyone found responsible for this spill is held accountable. That means enforcing the appropriate civil – and if warranted, criminal – authorities to the full extent of the law."
He added that the Justice Department has "begun both a criminal as well as civil investigation as is our obligation under the law."
But Scott West, the former special agent-in-charge at the Environmental Protection Agency's Criminal Investigation Division, who spent more than a year probing BP, said he still doesn't believe a "robust criminal probe" has been launched, despite Holder's assertions.
"We have been told that the presidential appointee heads of the Department of Justice (DOJ) civil division and environment division have been dispatched to the region," West wrote in a column published on Truthout Tuesday. "This action does not constitute a criminal investigation. It certainly hints at civil proceedings and, perhaps, is laying the groundwork to deal with the turf battles to come once a real investigation is allowed to begin.
"A real criminal investigation into an issue of this magnitude would be equipped with a small army of investigators, attorneys and scientists under the direct control of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Criminal Investigation Division (CID) special agent-in-charge (SAC). There is no way such an operation would remain quiet, and the media would definitely pick up on it."
Numerous media reports Tuesday, citing Holder's prepared remarks, said the attorney general confirmed a criminal probe is underway.
Here are Holder's prepared remarks:
This morning, I surveyed just one small portion of the damage caused by what is now the largest oil spill in American history. I was briefed by Coast Guard officers involved in the massive response effort and also surveyed the famed Louisiana Delta, where the early signs of oil intruding into the ecosystem are all too evident.
This afternoon, our team from Washington met with Attorneys General and U.S. Attorneys for the states and districts whose coast lines and citizens have been impacted by this disaster to discuss how we can work together to respond to this tragic spill.
As you all know, the President on Friday reiterated that the first and foremost goal of the entire government is stopping the leak, containing and cleaning up the oil, and helping the people in this region get back on their feet and return to their normal lives.
But as we have said all along, we must also ensure that anyone found responsible for this spill is held accountable. That means enforcing the appropriate civil – and if warranted, criminal – authorities to the full extent of the law.
What we saw this morning was oil for miles and miles. Oil that we know has already affected plant and animal life along the coast, and has impacted the lives and livelihoods of all too many in this region. This disaster is nothing less than a tragedy.
There is one thing I will not let be forgotten in this incident: In addition to the extensive costs being borne by our environment and by communities along the Gulf Coast, the initial explosion and fire also took the lives of 11 rig workers. Eleven innocent lives lost. As we examine the causes of the explosion and subsequent spill, I want to assure the American people that we will not forget the price those workers paid.
During the early stages of the response efforts, I sent a team of attorneys including the head of the Environment and Natural Resources Division, Ignacia Moreno, and the head of our Civil Division, Tony West, to New Orleans to lead our efforts to
protect not only the people who work and reside near the Gulf, but also the American taxpayers, the environment and the abundant wildlife in the region. They have been working diligently ever since to gather facts and coordinate the government’s legal response.
As we move forward, we will be guided by simple principles: We will ensure that every cent of taxpayer money will be repaid and damages to the environment and wildlife will be reimbursed. We will make certain that those responsible clean up the mess they have made and restore or replace the natural resources lost or injured in this tragedy. And we will prosecute to the full extent any violations of the law.
- Among the many statutes Department attorneys are reviewing are:
- The Clean Water Act, which carries civil penalties and fines as well as criminal penalties;
- The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which can be used to hold parties liable for cleanup costs and reimbursement for government efforts;
- The Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Endangered Species Acts, which provide penalties for injury and death to wildlife and bird species; and,
- Other traditional criminal statutes.
There are a wide range of possible violations under these statutes, and we will closely examine the actions of those involved in this spill. If we find evidence of illegal behavior, we will be forceful in our response. We have already instructed all relevant parties to preserve any documents that may shed light on the facts surrounding this disaster. As our review expands in the days ahead,
we will be meticulous, we will be comprehensive, and we will be aggressive. We will not rest until justice is done.
While the federal government continues to focus on stopping the leak and responding to the environmental disaster, the Department of Justice will ensure the American people do not foot the bill for this disaster and that our laws are enforced to the full extent. That is our responsibility, and we will do nothing less.
I’d now be happy to take any questions.