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BP to Pay $7.8 Billion to Settle Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Lawsuit -- Is the Company Getting Off Too Easy?

Critics argue the settlement allows BP to avoid going to court, where more than 72 million pages of documents and hundreds of witnesses could reveal damning evidence.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to news that the worst maritime oil spill in history may now yield one of the largest class action settlements ever. Late Friday night, oil giant British Petroleum agreed to a proposed settlement with more than 120,000 victims of the massive spill that spewed nearly five million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The settlement will now be reviewed by a judge. It has no cap, but BP estimates it will pay about $7.8 billion in damages to individuals. State and federal governments are still pursuing separate civil claims for environmental damage. All this comes as residents say the oil from the spill is still visible all along the Gulf Coast.

Statements from lawyers for BP and the plaintiffs have so far provided the only details about Friday’s proposed settlement with spill victims. The agreement reportedly provides a system to monitor health concerns and compensate people whose illnesses are found to have a link to the disaster. However, the fund BP set aside after the spill has so far refused to recognize similar health claims. Meanwhile, critics argue the new settlement allows BP to avoid going to court, where more than 72 million pages of documents and hundreds of witnesses could reveal damning evidence.

To talk more about this and the knowledge we have of the settlement so far, we’re joined by Antonia Juhasz, reporting on the BP Gulf oil spill trial for  The Nation magazine on a grant from the Nation Investigative Fund. Her  cover story in the April issue of  The Progressive magazine is called "BP Oil Still Tars the Gulf." And she’s author of the book  Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill.

Here in New York, we’re joined by Greg Palast, investigative reporter with the  BBC. His latest  piece at Truth-Out.org; it’s "BP Settlement Sells Out Victims: Deal Buries Evidence of Oil Company Willful Negligence." Following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Palast, with cameraman Rick Rowley, investigated BP oil company over four continents for British television. In 1989, he led an investigation of fraud charges in the grounding of the Exxon Valdez. His new book about his investigation of BP is called  Vultures’ Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates, and High-Finance Carnivores.

We welcome you both to  Democracy Now! Antonia, what is your sense of this spill settlement that a judge is going to decide on today?

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Well, basically, it’s that we’re at the very beginning of this process. There was supposed to be a trial on February 27th. I went down to New Orleans to cover it. Instead, I covered the beginning of a very intense, aggressive settlement process. The result of the beginning of that process is this proposal that is on the table. And I think the most important thing to say about it is it actually has the potential for not being a bad deal. As you said in your opening, BP is saying it’s going to be about $7.8 billion. But that’s just the number they’re putting out. It actually doesn’t have a cap. And it has the pieces in place that could make sure, as you say, that medical is provided, which is critical. It has pieces that allow for future assessments of potential future losses, which hadn’t been in there before. It assumes that if you say your losses are due to the spill, that they are in fact due to the spill. That’s critical. So, a number of pieces that plaintiffs on the ground and the community groups that represent those plaintiffs have been fighting for for two years. But the information is just starting to get out, and once the judge approves the deal, that’s also just the beginning. There’s 45 days for both sides to figure out if they actually like the deal. And it also includes, very importantly, an opt-out provision, which means that even if it is agreed, if you’re a plaintiff and you don’t like it, you can go sue, on your own, in court, which is also something the plaintiffs’ lawyers really want. But again, this is just one slice.

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