Our Views: First steps toward justice

A measure of justice has been meted out to the company responsible for the 2010 disaster that killed 11 workers in the Gulf of Mexico.

As part of the criminal penalties for the oil giant BP, a record $4.5 billion penalty provides for some relief for the waters, some of which may be showing the ecological impact of the oil leak for many years.

If approved by the court, parts of the settlement would pay over five years nearly $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences, to help pay for investigation of, and amelioration of, the oil leak.

Is it enough? No.

Despite the compensation funds established by the company for fishermen and others damaged directly by the leak and its cleanup, the big money in terms of the Gulf Coast’s environment would come in Clean Water Act penalties and fines still facing the company.

In agreeing to the criminal penalties, BP promised “to vigorously defend the company against the remaining civil claims.”

It is in those civil penalties that we hope for significant sums, surely well north of $10 billion, that can and should be levied against the company.

With the leadership of the Louisiana delegation in Congress, 80 percent of civil penalties would be dedicated to a set of programs that would provide coastal restoration and preservation funds to all the affected states.

The coastal provisions for some of the criminal penalties are “in the spirit” of Congress’ intent to use BP fines for the coast, said U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., the region’s legislative point on these issues. Nevertheless, as she and others know, the bigger money for the coast is yet to come.

We hope that the government does not rest in its efforts to make penalties a meaningful deterrent to slackness in safety and environmental protection.