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Boxer Encouraged by Strong Justice Department Response to BP Oil Spill
In Letter to EPW Chairman, DOJ Details Action in the Gulf
May 25, 2010

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, today released a letter she received from the United States Department of Justice detailing steps the Department has taken to date to respond to the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The DOJ letter is a response to a May 17, 2010 letter from Senator Boxer and seven other Senators to United States Attorney General Eric Holder expressing concerns about the truthfulness and accuracy of statements submitted by BP to the government in its initial exploration plan for this site, and asking him to open an investigation into potential violations of civil and criminal laws. Joining Senator Boxer in signing the May 17 letter were Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

Senator Boxer said, "BP said they were ready for this spill if it occurred. Clearly they were unprepared -- and dangerously so -- and that is why I am very pleased that the Department of Justice is very serious about committing the resources required to ensure justice is done."

Text of today's Department of Justice letter to Chairman Boxer, as well as the Senators' May 17 letter to the Attorney General, is attached below.

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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Legislative Affairs
Washington. D.C. 20530

The Honorable Barbara Boxer
Chairman
Committee on Environment and Public Works
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

May 25, 2010

Dear Madam Chairman:

This responds to your letter, dated May 17,2010, to the Attorney General concerning British Petroleum's actions in connection with the Deepwater Horizon explosion, fire and oil spill. At the outset, we wish to assure you that the Justice Department is committed to vigorous enforcement of all applicable laws in order to protect the people who work and reside near the Gulf of Mexico, as well as nearby wildlife, the environment and American taxpayers.

The Department of Justice will take all necessary and appropriate steps to ensure that those responsible for this tragic series of events are held fully accountable. Three weeks ago Attorney General Eric Holder dispatched a team of attorneys from the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) and the Civil Division within the Department to monitor the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and assess the legal position of the United States in the aftermath of this environmental disaster. The team, headed by Ignacia Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for ENRD, and Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, met with the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana and the rest of the response team in New Orleans, as well as with state officials. Subsequently, Ms. Moreno and Mr. West convened a meeting of all of the United States Attorneys in the Gulf region to assure a coordinated effort.

The Department team is examining the full range of affirmative legal options that may be available to the United States. The team is providing daily legal advice and coordination for federal attorneys from across the Government, a vital function. Department attorneys also are defending the interests of the United States in suits brought by others.

The Department has sent formal demands to British Petroleum, Transocean and other companies to ensure the preservation of potentially relevant information. These letters invoke legal requirements for preserving evidence in anticipation of litigation. Department officials have spoken with BP and Transocean counsel to ensure they are complying with these demands.

You have asked the Department to open a criminal inquiry into events surrounding the oil spill. Consistent with long-standing policy, we neither confirm nor deny the existence of such an investigation. However we appreciate the facts that you have called to our attention and assure you they will receive due consideration.

In sum, the Department of Justice is responding to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, fire and oil spill with the utmost seriousness. We are taking all appropriate steps in the wake of an environmental tragedy in which eleven lives were lost and countless others have been grievously damaged.

Sincerely,
Ronald Weich
Assistant Attorney General

cc: Senator James Inhofe
Ranking Minority Member

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May 17, 2010

The Honorable Eric Holder
Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
Robert F. Kennedy Building
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 5111
Washington, DC 20530-2000

Dear Attorney General Holder:

We are writing to ask that you open an inquiry into whether British Petroleum (BP) made false and misleading statements to the federal government regarding its ability to respond to oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the course of our oversight of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Committee on Environment and Public Works has uncovered statements by BP, such as those described below.

In a document entitled, "Initial Exploration Plan Mississippi Canyon Block 252," which was prepared for and submitted to the Minerals Management Service and dated February 23, 2009, BP evaluated the potential environmental impacts and the ability to respond to a blowout resulting from an oil spill. Specifically, in describing impacts of its proposed oil and gas exploration activities on Essential Fish Habitat, BP stated:

"In the event of an unanticipated blowout resulting in an oil spill, it is unlikely to have an impact based on the industry wide standards for using proven equipment and technology for such responses, implementation of BP's Regional Oil Spill Response Plan which address available equipment and personnel, techniques for containment and recovery and removal of the oil spill."

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it does not in any way appear that there was "proven equipment and technology" to respond to the spill, which could have tragic consequences for local economies and the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the response and implementation of spill control technologies appears to be taking place on an ad hoc basis. In fact, BP released a statement on May 10, 2010, that stated:

"All of the techniques being attempted or evaluated to contain the flow of oil on the seabed involve significant uncertainties because they have not been tested in these conditions before."

I request that you review this matter with respect to civil and criminal laws related to false statements to the federal government, including 18 USC 1001, as well as any federal law or regulation that may have been violated in connection with issues surrounding the spill.

As our Committee's investigation continues, we will provide additional information to the Department of Justice.

Sincerely,

Senator Barbara Boxer
Senator Ben Cardin
Senator Frank Lautenberg
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Senator Bernie Sanders
Senator Amy Klobuchar
Senator Tom Carper
Senator Jeff Merkley

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