BP Oil Spill Cleanup

(Ships skim oil from the water's surface near the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill site in the Gulf of Mexico near the coast of Louisiana, U.S., on Wednesday, June 2, 2010. Photographer: Derick E. Hingle/Bloomberg)

I sat down with Assistant Attorney General John Cruden last week during an American Bar Association conference in Austin, Texas. Our conversation covered a variety of topics, including his end-of-administration priorities, the Justice Department’s involvement in the Flint water crisis and the ongoing negotiations with Volkswagen over excess diesel emissions.

I asked Cruden for an update on a more than $20 billion settlement with BP over the Deepwater Horizon 2010 oil spill. While we spoke days before a federal district court judge formally entered the settlement, Cruden’s comments provide some context on what that decision means for the Gulf Coast states and communities that are set to receive funding under the settlement.

Bloomberg BNA:   The DOJ has submitted a proposed consent decree with BP on the Deepwater Horizon spill. If the judge does choose to enter the settlement, what comes next? How quickly does the money start going out for environmental remediation, go out to the states and localities?

John Cruden:   To back up a little bit, we're kind of unique in going through a public comment process. That's a very unique part of the environment division's actions for our enforcement cases, that we routinely do seek public comment. This [BP settlement process] was public comment on steroids. Not only did we double the time that we normally allow for public comment, but we had public meetings. Eight of them in every Gulf state and the District of Columbia. Not surprisingly — I moderated one — we got comments. People had ideas. So we spent time going over that, working our way through the ideas.

Then we go to the court, as we just did, asking the court to enter the consent decree. Enter is a legal word in this context because it means you're approving it, but you're more than approving it. When you enter the consent decree, it becomes an order of the court. And so, if in fact BP does not follow some part of the consent decree, we can go back into court and get the court to order them. We could even seek, if we wanted to, contempt of court. It becomes more powerful, even though this is a process that is long and involved, at the end of the day, it's a more powerful process.

So we can be very assured that BP is going to do what they said. And what they've said is starting almost immediately, over a 15-year period the money, over $20 billion, in a very specific way gets sent out. So that's the launch point. The entry of the consent decree triggers all of the responsibilities. It triggers responsibilities for BP to become more transparent in what they're doing in terms of monitoring activities and other responsibilities. But the triggering event would be the court saying, “I agree,” and entering the consent decree.

The Q&A is available for subscribers in DOJ's Cruden on End-of-Administration Priorities.

Subscribers can also check out my story about the settlement at Cruden: Judge’s OK Would Lock Down BP Settlement.