News reports say that BP has entered into a settlement with the Department of Justice for criminal penalties for the 2010 BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. According to The Washington Post, BP has agreed to pay $4 billion over five years for their role in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drill, which led to 11 workers dying and a lot of Gulf fisherfolk put out of work. Early estimates for BP fines were placed at $20 billion, for violation of the Clean Water Act and a number of other environmental protection statues. The plea will keep BP from going to trial with the federal government, which sought to prove criminal willful negligence on BP’s part.

Congress passed a law earlier this year that would direct BP’s criminal fines to the Gulf Coast states, to use for restoration projects, as opposed to going to Treasury — a victory for Gulf Coast advocates who pushed for that. There is still outstanding civil litigation for those who lost business or whose health was affected by the oil disaster. That was settled earlier this year for $8 billion, a great portion of which will go toward opening up health centers across the Gulf, which was also pushed for by advocates.

The Washington Post says BP still likely will be able to do business with the US and drill in the Gulf.

It was unclear how BP’s plea would affect its ability to bid on contracts to supply fuel to the U.S. military. BP has been a major supplier of fuel to the Pentagon in the past. But analysts expect that it will not impair the company’s ability to lease areas of the Gulf of Mexico or explore for oil and gas there. The company said that it “has not been advised of the intention of any federal agency to suspend or debar the company in connection with this plea agreement. BP will continue to work cooperatively with the debarment authority.”

Others put the fine into perspective.

“It is the largest criminal fine ever because BP’s epic crime against this region’s environment, cultures and human health is the largest crime ever to face potential prosecution,” says Derrick Evans, Managing advisor for Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health. “BP knows this as well as the fact that they are getting off cheap.”

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