Despite a long history of “egregious violations,” the behemoth oil company’s temporary suspension from obtaining lucrative government contracts may turn out to be much shorter than expected.
“BP is a serious serial corporate environmental criminal and a corporate serial killer…. [The company] always settles its cases with the government and promises to change its culture, but it continues to do the same thing over and over again.”
— Jeanne Pascal, former EPA debarment counsel
On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a surprise announcement stating that, effective immediately, the oil behemoth and more than a dozen of its subsidiary companies will be “ineligible” to “receive any federal contract or approved subcontract” as a result of BP’s agreement to plead guilty two weeks ago to a wide range of crimes directly related to the deadly April 2010 disaster in the Gulf.
“EPA is taking this action due to BP’s lack of business integrity as demonstrated by the company’s conduct with regard to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill and response as reflected by the filing [by the Justice Department] of a criminal information,” the EPA said in its statement.
The notice of suspension, sent to BP PLC chief executive Robert Dudley, states that on November 23 the EPA’s suspension and debarment division recommended that BP immediately be suspended from government contract work. The notice of suspension typically is preceded by a complaint document that lays out all of the reasons suspension and debarment is sought. The EPA did not provide Truthout with a copy of the complaint.
In a news release BP issued after it settled criminal charges related to the Gulf disaster, BP said the company “has not been advised of the intention of any federal agency to suspend or debar the company in connection with this plea agreement.”
The EPA’s announcement, which does not apply to BP’s existing federal contracts, was made the same day the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management opened up for sale to oil companies more than 20 million acres in the Western Gulf of Mexico for oil and natural gas exploration and development. Also, on Wednesday, two BP supervisors who were aboard the Deepwater Horizon when it exploded were arraigned on manslaughter charges, and a former BP vice president was arraigned on false statements and obstruction of Congress. All three pleaded not guilty.
A BP spokeswoman said the company already had decided before the decision by the EPA to sit out Wednesday’s lease sale. But the EPA’s suspension would also have covered new drilling leases and so the timing of the agency’s announcement does not appear to be coincidental. BP was the high bidder in June for 43 leases to drill in the Central Gulf of Mexico, not far from the site of where the Macondo well ruptured and spewed millions of barrels of oil into the waters. BP is the largest deepwater leaseholder in the Gulf.
But after the EPA announced BP’s suspension, BP quickly issued a statement, downplaying the EPA’s action and attempting to reassure its shareholders, saying that the corporation “has been in regular dialogue with the EPA” and is already negotiating with federal regulators to lift the ban.
“The EPA has informed BP that it is preparing a proposed administrative agreement that, if agreed upon, would effectively resolve and lift this temporary suspension,” BP’s statement says. “The EPA notified BP that such a draft agreement would be available soon.”
BP noted that it has already provided “both a present responsibility statement of more than 100 pages and supplemental answers to the EPA’s questions based on that submission.”
“Moreover, in support of BP’s efforts to establish present responsibility, the US Department of Justice agreed, in the plea agreement, that it will advise any appropriate suspension or debarment authority that in the Department’s view, BP has accepted criminal responsibility for its conduct relating to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill and response,” BP’s statement said.
However, in a statement issued to Truthout, the EPA said that while the agency cannot specifically comment on BP’s claims about negotiations to lift the contracting ban, the plea agreement the company entered into “includes a remedial order that, if accepted by the court at sentencing, will specifically provide for BP to submit to the government a plan for addressing the conditions which gave rise to the statutory violations within 60 days.
“This plan must be approved by the government, at which time it becomes a condition of BP’s criminal probation,” the EPA statement said. “In addition, there are pending civil proceedings. The suspension could therefore continue until those proceedings are completed.”
Those civil proceedings could continue for at least another year.