Statement from Attorney Brent Coon Regarding Decision to Postpone BP Plea Agreement Hearing
“On behalf of our firm and the 240 clients we have represented in this tragedy, we commend Judge Rosenthal for postponing the hearing on a plea agreement between the Department of Justice and BP North America. This will provide all interested parties with more time to provide the court with relevant information to consider before accepting any agreement.
"The proposed plea agreement includes an agreed fine of $250 million for propane price fixing charges, while ascribing only one-fifth of that amount to penalize BP for what happened at Texas City. It contradicts common sense and decency that white collar crimes – which do not result in death, dismemberment and other injury – can command greater penalties than crimes that do indeed carry a high, human cost.
“Our firm and a substantial number of our clients want to go on record opposing the plea agreement as it is now structured. Our firm has led the civil investigation into the BP explosion for the last two years. We have worked regularly with numerous authorities and investigative agencies, including the DOJ and U.S. Chemical Safety Board, providing them with copies of the documents and deposition statements we obtained during discovery. This included over seven million internal BP documents and tens of thousands of pages of sworn testimony.
“While we commend the DOJ for dedicating substantial resources to the investigation, we respectfully disagree with the proposed plea agreement for several reasons.
“First, the fine is grossly inadequate. Our office filed formal pleadings when the first cases were going to trial last year, requesting a punitive award of $1 billion dollars, which was the amount of profit made at the Texas City plant in the year preceding the explosion. Unfortunately, civil law in Texas caps punitive damages at $750,000, hardly an amount that would act as a financial deterrent to a major international corporation.
“As we established conclusively in our civil litigation, BP was fully aware of the many problems that led up to the explosion and chose not to deal with them because they all posed minor financial costs. Even in the days before the explosion, the plant manager was bragging that the facility was "printing money," and yet they continued to allow it to operate in a deplorable condition and refused to allocate monies for necessary repairs.
“Second, the parent company, BP, PLC, is not a party to the plea agreement. We have established conclusively that the recurrent and absurdly unnecessary budget cuts at Texas City that led to the explosion were made under direct and specific orders from BP’s London headquarters. Likewise, we have established that executives in London were routinely advised as to the poor condition of the facility. As such, BP, PLC should be forced to admit guilt as well in the plea.
“Third, BP admits to some wrongdoing in the plea, but these admissions are wholly inadequate and do not reflect the full extent of their guilt. BP should, at the very least, agree to all of the findings as stated in the final U.S. Chemical Safety Board report, which placed the focus of the blame on management and provided a detailed finding as to each of the many areas of failure contributing to the event.
“Lastly, no individuals in management are charged or sentenced as part of this agreement. We believe that unless there is individual corporate management accountability, the horrendous nature of the crime could become significantly downplayed. 15 people died horrible deaths, and hundreds, if not thousands, were impacted directly from a cataclysmic explosion that shattered windows as much as five miles away. We again established conclusively that management at all levels was repeatedly warned that a tragedy of this nature was inevitable. Those warnings were summarily ignored. It is unconscionable that at least some of those responsible do not go to prison.
“It is clear that BP has not grasped the seriousness of this tragedy, despite public statements to the contrary. We established more than a year ago, in a courtroom hearing, that Mr. Herrera left his position with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and went to work for BP, in clear violation to the "revolving door" statute that expressly precludes such employment arrangements. We established that BP destroyed key documents, resulting in what is known as a "spoliation instruction," from the court.
“We know that BP tried from the very beginning to deny any forewarnings of this tragedy, and that the company has spent untold millions of dollars in glossy PR and advertising campaigns to limit the reputational damage flowing from their misconduct. We know that they internally acknowledged, in a secret investigation, that all of the lead managers in the BP system should be fired. Yet a year after the report, no one has been dismissed.
“The now dethroned CEO of BP, PLC, Lord John Browne, gave a press conference the day after the explosion, at which he said that BP ‘would be transparent’ in the investigation into what happened. That was a lie. Instead, BP dedicated resources to damage control, denying any budget cuts, denying any forewarnings, denying any management accountability. BP never had any intention of being transparent. In fact, even today, BP still refuses to let us depose Lord Browne on anything related to this incident. What is BP hiding?
“To fully expose BP, we mandated that all of the documents obtained through discovery be made public. Those documents may now be found at www.texascityexplosion.com, including, among many others, the transcript of the Oct. 2006 court proceedings where Mr. Herrera admitted his role with the TCEQ prior to working for BP, as well as the video deposition we took from him shortly thereafter. It also includes numerous other key documents addressing the criminal violations of regulatory rules by BP and its management.
“We again thank Judge Rosenthal for providing this additional time and indicating a desire to hear from those affected by this tragedy. We will file a formal report with the court in opposition to the plea on behalf of dozens of our clients who, sadly, still live with this tragedy every day.”