The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that U.S. Justice Department is expected to join the hundreds of civil lawsuits that have been filed over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
According to sources who spoke to the paper, the Justice Department plans to allege violations of environmental protection regulations, which could trigger penalties under such laws as the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act. The government lawsuit is expected to be filed today, the Journal reported.
In joining the private litigation, Justice Department lawyers are positioning themselves to play a major role in the coming litigation, including depositions of key witnesses. That could aid the government's continuing probe into the disaster aimed at building a civil and possibly a criminal case against the companies involved, these people said.
The government's move is the first salvo of what is likely to be a lengthy and complex legal fight as it and the companies involved try to assign blame for the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. The disaster killed 11 people and resulted in an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil being spilled into the Gulf of Mexico before BP plugged the leak on July 15.
Dozens of private-party lawsuits have been consolidated in so-called multidistrict litigation in federal court in New Orleans, representing claims against BP and its contractors for damages from the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
Attorneys for those private party plaintiffs also are expected to consolidate the cases further by filing a new combined civil suit in federal court in New Orleans laying out their allegations against BP and other defendants.