Friday, March 13, 2009
Judge approves disputed BP plea deal in Texas City blast
A division of BP officially became a felon Thursday when a federal judge accepted a long-pending plea bargain to resolve a criminal investigation into the deadly 2005 explosion at the company’s Texas City refinery.
U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal ordered BP to pay the agreed-upon $50 million fine by Monday and comply with blast-related settlements with regulators while on probation for three years.
The explosion on March 23, 2005, killed 15 workers and hurt many more.
Rosenthal’s ruling came nearly a year and a half after the plea deal was unveiled in late October 2007. In February 2008, Texas City plant manager Keith Casey pleaded guilty on the company’s behalf to a felony violation of the Clean Air Act.
But Rosenthal held off on approving or rejecting the deal as blast victims repeatedly implored her to toss it out.
Victims say the fine is too small, that BP has failed to abide by blast-related settlements with regulators and that prosecutors bypassed a 2004 federal victim rights law requiring prosecutors to confer with victims before drafting the accord.
Rosenthal heard arguments and testimony on all those points. A 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel sided with victims regarding the 2004 law but stopped short of ordering Rosenthal to reject the plea deal, leaving the final decision in her hands.
“I don’t think there’s any question as to the extent of opportunity that has been extended and used” by everyone who wanted to be heard, Rosenthal said Thursday.
After “a great deal of thought and consideration,” she said, “the plea should be accepted.”
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