Criminal Justice

BP Pleads Guilty in Texas Refinery Explosion That Killed 15

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A federal judge in Houston is one step closer to approving a criminal plea deal by petroleum giant BP concerning a 2005 explosion at a Texas refinery that killed 15 and injured more than 170.

BP entered a guilty plea today, but U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal hasn’t yet decided whether to accept it, according to the Associated Press. The deal calls for the London-based company to pay a $50 million fine and be on probation for three years for air pollution violations that reportedly caused the explosion.

Victims are contending that the fine should be as much as $3.2 billion—roughly triple BP’s profits at the refinery during the year before the blast—and want the judge to order a presentence investigation report that could pin down what, specifically, went wrong at the refinery and caused the explosion, explains Bloomberg. They also want the court to supervise mandated safety improvements at the plant. BP says it has already spent $1 billion on them and will spend billions more.

Victims are angry that no one at BP is being held personally accountable for the 15 deaths, although an investigation is continuing and further charges are not precluded, writes the Houston Chronicle.

Rosenthal pointed out that she doesn’t have the power to negotiate the plea, only to decide whether to approve it, Bloomberg notes.

“I’m not authorized or permitted to insert myself into the plea bargaining process,” the judge said. “I must not evaluate a hypothetical plea that hasn’t been entered or that someone else, or indeed one that I, might prefer.”

The company has previously been fined $21 million over the accident by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and it has paid some $1.6 billion to settle most of the 4,000 or so property and personal injury claims that resulted. A trial is scheduled on the remaining claims in state court in Texas in May. “BP Expected to Settle Refinery, Market Manipulation Charges” “BP Victims Blast ‘Shockingly Lenient’ Plea” “Judge: Explosion Victims Can Voice Objections to BP Settlement”

Houston Chronicle: “BP blast survivors line up to speak”

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