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BP Faces Possible Sanctions For Gulf Coast Spill

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BP Faces Possible Sanctions For Gulf Coast Spill

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BP Faces Possible Sanctions For Gulf Coast Spill

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

As we've been reporting throughout this morning, President Obama addressed the nation last night on his plans for dealing with the Gulf oil spill. They include the deployment of 17,000 National Guard members to help with the cleanup. The president also announced a long term restoration plan to be lead by former Mississippi Governor Ray Mavis.

AMOS: Mr. Obama also said that BP will pay for all damages of the spill through a compensation fund. The president is scheduled to meet with BP executives this morning to discuss that fund.

INSKEEP: Now, not surprisingly, this spill is expected to cost BP billions of dollars. And the company could lose something else of great value - the right to drill in the Gulf. Some are calling on the government to take away BP's right to bid on federal oil leases. The government has the ability to impose a wide range of penalties against BP. Nothing specific has been announced, but as NPR's Jeff Brady reports, there is plenty of speculation.

JEFF BRADY: The sanctions available to the federal government generally fall into three categories. First, it could restrict BP's right to bid on and drill federal oil leases in the Gulf. Second, the government could bar BP from bidding on federal contracts. And third, it could levy a big fine against BP. If it were up to Tyson Slocum at the watchdog group Public Citizen, he'd use all three.

Mr. TYSON SLOCUM (Public Citizen): This is a company that does not learn its lesson.

BRADY: Slocum says individual sanctions, such as fines, haven't changed BP's history of violating environmental and safety laws. He thinks the government should throw the book at the company. He says the Minerals Management Service should bar BP from bidding on future oil leases in federal waters. Slocum says BP also should face sanctions when it comes to federal contracting.

BP has over $2 billion in contracts with the Defense Department, mostly to provide jet fuel. Slocum thinks those should be given to someone else.

Mr. SLOCUM: A company that can't be bothered to comply with U.S. laws and regulations does not deserve to get lucrative Pentagon contracts.

BRADY: But all those sanctions together could hobble BP financially. Erik Milito with the American Petroleum Institute says penalties need to be weighed against the benefits BP provides. For example, it employs 23,000 people in the U.S.

Mr. ERIK MILITO (American Petroleum Institute): (Unintelligible) actions on its own. And our hope is that no matter what actions are taken, it's done in an informed manner and recognizes the jobs that are created and the importance of domestic oil and natural gas production to the country.

BRADY: And beyond that, if BP were penalized out of business, who would pay to clean up the mess? That's why David Pursell has a different suggestion. He's managing director at Tudor Pickering Holt & Company. That's an investment bank in Houston.

Pursell says the government should remove BP's ability to operate rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. He says BP would keep financial interest in the rigs but someone else would operate them.

Mr. DAVID PURSELL (Tudor Pickering Holt & Company): It allows the government to penalize BP for kind of past sins, but it allows BP to continue as a viable financial entity, because there's a lot of cleanup work to do and our view is BP is worth more alive than dead.

BRADY: At Stanford University, environmental law Professor Michael Wara has examined all the arrows in the government's quiver and reached a different conclusion.

Professor MICHAEL WARA (Stanford University): The appearance of cracking down, I think, might best be accomplished by making BP pay a large dollar sum now, or in the near future.

BRADY: Wara says a dollar figure, especially a big one, is something the average person can easily understand. He says all those other sanctions could be used as leverage, then dropped in order to get BP to agree to the figure without a lengthy court battle.

If the Obama administration is considering any of these things, it's not saying which route it will take. As for BP, the company says it won't comment on speculation.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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