US environment chief mum on BP criminal negligence

With the ruptured Macondo well all but dead on the ocean floor as engineers complete their cement seals that shut the well for good, BP is shifting towards recovery operations including cleaning hundreds of miles of shoreline and restoring the economic health of the region.

Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, stressed that the British energy giant was on the hook for billions of dollars in penalties for the largest unintentional oil spill in petroleum industry history.
"BP will be held absolutely accountable," Browner told NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "There will be a large financial penalty."

An estimated 4.9 million barrels, more than 205 million gallons, spewed from the ruptured well in the 87 days from the beginning of the disaster until the leak was finally capped on July 15, the US government has said, citing the latest official estimates by teams of federal and independent scientists.About 8,00,000 barrels of that were contained and funneled into ships on the surface.

The numbers could play a crucial role in determining how much BP is fined under the Clean Water Act, which allows the US government to seek civil penalties for illegal oil discharges.

Fines under the law range from USD 1,100 per barrel spilled to as high as USD 4,300 per barrel spilled, if negligence is proven, meaning BP could theoretically face fines of up to USD 17.6 billion for the 4.1 million barrels that poured into the sea.Browner was evasive, however, about whether the Obama administration would pursue negligence charges against BP.

"I'm not going to comment on the Department of Justice investigation" into BP's actions leading up to and during the spill, Browner said.

When pressed if the company should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, she replied: "absolutely."

The White House has already demanded that BP set up a USD 20 billion compensation fund for Gulf Coast residents and businesses. Browner said the fund will be launched "in the coming days.

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