US attorney general says ready for BP trial
WASHINGTON Feb 28 (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Tuesday that his team is prepared to go to trial against BP Plc over the mammoth Gulf of Mexico oil spill next week and said there could be developments on the criminal investigation in the coming months.
The civil trial over the Macondo well blowout was scheduled to start this week but was delayed until March 5 as BP tries to reach a settlement with tens of thousands of businesses and individuals affected by the disaster.
"We are prepared to go to trial. We were ready to go to trial yesterday," Holder told a House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee. He added that "we'll see what happens during the course of that week" with regard to a possible settlement.
BP has also been negotiating with the Justice Department over a possible settlement regarding violations of U.S. environmental laws but there have been no signs that the two sides were close to reaching a deal.
"We have a strong case. ... People, organizations have to be held accountable, responsible for the lives that were disrupted, the economic harm that was inflicted upon people that were innocent, totally innocent," Holder said.
The Justice Department has also been looking into whether to bring criminal charges related to the disaster that led to some 4.9 million barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven people died in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
"I'm satisfied with the progress that we are making and I would expect within months we will have something to say in that regard as well," Holder said.
The attorney general also sought to assure lawmakers that if there was any settlement with the federal government over violations of the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws, that it would reflect "the harm that was perpetrated and will try to make whole people who suffered."
BP is potentially facing billions of dollars in fines under environmental laws for the oil spill.
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