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To answer your main question, I think BP should pay all the costs associated with the spill. However, at some point they'll start pushing back and say enough is enough. While the legal obligation is $75 million, they will probably cover a few billion of costs and make sure that the general public is aware of every penny spent. But the ultimate cost of the spill is expected by many experts to exceed $10 billion. When you start getting that high, the lawyers will take charge and drag things out, much like they did with the Exxon Valdez spill. And the corporate friendly Supreme Court will side with BP. Too big to fail???
When one considers all the legal ramifications, one must bear in mind that the MMS and EPA approved all of BP's drilling plans for the well and it's contingency plans in case of a spill. As long as they were adhering to approved government plans, where is the criminal liability?
Les Blumenthal has a June 6th article in Truthout, in which he addresses the fines that could be imposed on BP under the Clean Water Act.
"The Clean Water Act allows the U.S. to seek civil fines for every drop of oil that's spilled into the nation's navigable waters. Under the act, the basic fine is $1,100 per barrel spilled.
If a judge finds that the spill was a result of gross negligence, the fines can rise to $4,300 a barrel. Gross negligence has been defined as highly reckless disregard.
The civil fines would be on top of any criminal fines. BP also owes economic damages, which are capped at $75 million. The company has said it will pay all "legitimate" economic claims it receives even if they exceed the cap."
The language of the Clean Air Act allows wiggle room for corporations like BP. In the end, the Gulf Coast fisherman and residents will bear the largest burden in terms of the losses of their livelihood with only token compensation, and the tax payers will pay the brunt of the monetary costs for this disaster. BP's image will suffer in the short term, but like Exxon they'll be bouncing back.
There's a word for it: corporate socialism. Corporations take the profits, tax payers take the risks. The US Chamber of Commerce is the biggest proponent of corporate socialism.