BP Is Expected To Plead Guilty In Gulf Spill

Oil giant BP is preparing to plead guilty to criminal misconduct related to the 2010 Gulf spill. The deal is set to be announced in New Orleans Thursday.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

BP is preparing to plead guilty to criminal misconduct related to its massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. This plea bargain is set to be announced in New Orleans today, and we're going to talk about it now with NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. She's in our studios.

Carrie, good morning.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what's the agreement?

JOHNSON: Well, the outlines of the agreement are not entirely clear at this point. What we do know is that BP has agreed to plead guilty to at least one criminal charge in connection with that April 2010 oil spill. BP has said earlier this morning out of London that it will not resolve in one fell swoop in some kind of global settlement all of the outstanding civil claims against it. But this is a big moment in time, because it will involve a criminal guilty plea.

INSKEEP: I want to try to figure out what this means when a corporation pleads guilty to criminal charges. Civil charges, I get. That means you lose and you pay money. But what punishment goes to a corporation when it admits to a crime as a corporation?

JOHNSON: Steve, this is actually an area of controversy within the law. What companies typically do is agree to pay a lot of money, and the Justice Department imposes some restraints on their future conduct requiring a company like BP, say, to have an outside monitor to evaluate its behavior moving forward as a company to try to change its corporate culture. But some people in the environmental justice community and elsewhere think no penalty short of barring a company like BP from receiving federal contracts would be enough.

INSKEEP: Barring them from receiving federal contracts - you mean from doing business in the United States, doing business with the federal government? What does that mean?

JOHNSON: From doing business with the federal government, defense agencies and other - Department of Interior and other contracts around the country.

INSKEEP: Okay. And we should state that as we're talking here, we don't know precisely the terms of that plea bargain. We'll learn that as the day goes on. Let's remember the significance of this oil spill. It's almost been forgotten, even though at the time it happened in 2010, it was hard to think about anything else.

JOHNSON: Steve, for almost three months, we were, you know, watching every day oil gush out of that well, out of that Macondo well in the Gulf. Eleven people died on the Deep Water Horizon rig in that accident in April 2010, and we're still learning some of the environmental impacts from that spill, even now. And scientists say it'll take years to come to figure our truly the effect on wildlife and water in that region.

INSKEEP: BP has already agree to pay, what, billions of dollars in damages in various ways?

JOHNSON: Billions of dollars, yes. Twenty billion dollars to set up a trust fund to go to some of the victims in the immediate aftermath, and also about $8 billion more earlier this year to settle some claims by businesses and individuals. But there's still a lot civil liability moving forward for BP. It should also be mentioned, Steve, that other companies like Halliburton and Transocean are not yet as far down along the road as BP is in settling with the Justice Department.

INSKEEP: These are other companies that were also involved with that well and, of course, involved with the liability now.

JOHNSON: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Would you just remind us, Carrie Johnson - because you're telling us that BP is pleading guilty to criminal misconduct charges as a corporation. Would you just remind us if any individual has faced criminal charges here?

JOHNSON: Great question. So far, over the last several months, the only individual at BP who's been charged is a former engineer who was accused of deleting a whole bunch of messages regarding the spill rate, the amount of oil that was gushing out of the well. I'm hearing from sources today that other individuals at BP could be charged with crimes in connection with the announcement.

INSKEEP: Okay. Well, we'll continue listening for more on that. Carrie, thanks very much.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. She's speaking with us on this Thursday morning as we await word that BP is pleading guilty to criminal misconduct charges as part of a plea bargain.

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INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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