It's been four years since the BP Deep Water Horizon disaster where an oil rig explosion in the Gulf killed 11 workers and triggered the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.
This brought upon $1.3 billion in criminal fines, and manslaughter charges on the oil company, as well as multiple government suspensions. BP was also sued by a handful of states, including Florida.
But in February, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lifted its suspension of BP entities from federal contracts, allowing them to once again do business with the government. On Friday, more than 50 conservation groups, led by the Center for Biological Diversity, sent a letter to the EPA saying that it would be irresponsible, and undermine federal laws -- at great risk to the environment -- to allow BP to pick up where it left off and resume business with the U.S. government.
"The EPA sent notice debarring BP from doing business with the government, which is pretty significant," Allison Fisher, outreach director for Public Citizen's Energy Program, tells New Times. "BP is the top contractor with department of defense, with $2 billion worth of contracts for fueling, and they want an opportunity to renew those contracts."
The environmental groups collected about 60,000 signatures calling for the EPA to use its authority to disqualify BP and its subsidiaries from federal contracts for the duration of the five-year probationary period they were tagged with following the disaster.
"The probation period should be about BP proving they're responsible," Fisher says. Biological Diversity says the company has provided no evidence that this is the case.
Letting BP off the hook, Fisher argues, would weaken the effectiveness of government debarment and suspensions, and basically sends the message that a corporation like BP can continue to do business as usual, despite a massive environmental crime like Deep Horizons.
Biological Diversity points out that BP's facilities have been responsible in the deaths of 26 people in the past 12 years. The company is also responsible for the largest oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as Alaska's North Slope .
Just last month, more than 1,600 gallons of crude oil leaked into Lake Michigan from BP's Whiting refinery in Indiana.
"Oil drilling is considered a contract," Fisher says. "And when it comes to regulatory framework, the law is written pretty loosely."
"BP devastated the Gulf and then lied to Congress about it," Zack Malitz, campaign manager at CREDO, an organization that supports activism and funds progressive nonprofits, said. "There's no reason to trust this criminal corporation to do anything but negligently endanger public health and the environment."
Last year's suit, filed by State Attorney General Pam Bondi in U.S. District Court in Panama City, went after BP for not changing the batteries on the oil rig's blowout preventer.
The suit sought punitive damages for the state for the "misconduct that led to this environmental and economic disaster."
Florida, the suit said, is entitled to the revenues it lost because of the Deep Water Horizon spill.