The government promised to crack down on environmental crimes in the wake of the devastating BP oil spill in 2010. And at first, it appeared to be fulfilling that pledge. The fines against BP set the record as the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history: $4.5 billion.
But since then, the federal government has eased the pressure. Congress failed to put into effect the tougher offshore oil and gas production regulations that were recommended after the BP spill; a ballyhooed training center for government inspectors was scrapped; the Interior Department’s environmental enforcement division was understaffed and couldn’t perform its basic oversight duties; and when companies were caught violating environmental laws, prosecutors were unwilling to reward whistleblowers.
Still, there was reason to believe the government would be more aggressive with Howington’s case. Rarely have the authorities had so much to work with as they did with his video evidence.
Howington and Servos brought the feds copies of crystal-clear video showing chemicals and what looked like oil gushing out of a pipe 1,500 feet below the surface of the Gulf on April 1, 2014. It was recorded by a camera mounted on a remotely operated vehicle, an unmanned submarine Howington and other rig workers controlled from a floating oil rig.
Hey at least they prosecuted somebody! You millenials are so spoiled. Do you even remember how this kind of federal oversight used to work?
So just be happy with what you get now. Ken Polite says it's good enough for him.The report says that eight officials in the royalty program accepted gifts from energy companies whose value exceeded limits set by ethics rules — including golf, ski and paintball outings; meals and drinks; and tickets to a Toby Keith concert, a Houston Texans football game and a Colorado Rockies baseball game.The investigation also concluded that several of the officials “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.”The investigation separately found that the program’s manager mixed official and personal business. In sometimes lurid detail, the report also accuses him of having intimate relations with two subordinates, one of whom regularly sold him cocaine.The culture of the organization “appeared to be devoid of both the ethical standards and internal controls sufficient to protect the integrity of this vital revenue-producing program,” one report said.The director of the Minerals Management Service, Randall Luthi, said in a conference call with reporters that the officials implicated in the reports had violated the public’s trust.
In a letter to the court, Maestri stood by the decision to charge Walter Oil & Gas for failing to report the discharge, noting that the fine for that felony is larger than the one for an intentional discharge.In other words, the whistleblower doesn't get the $6 million he might have been entitled to. That sucks for him, of course. It's also not great for changing future behavior among rig operators. We're pretty sure we'll see a no cell phones policy instituted pretty soon. That ought to keep this from happening again, at least.
The U.S attorney in New Orleans, Kenneth Polite, stood by Maestri’s handling of the case. He said he couldn’t comment in detail about Howington’s allegations because his claim against Maestri is still pending with the Justice Department in Washington.
“I can state confidently, however, that Walter Oil pled guilty to an environmental criminal charge appropriate to the facts and evidence,” Polite said. “Further, our office timely responded to the questions and concerns of Mr. Howington's counsel. Ultimately, I expect Mr. Howington's claim to be denied.”