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BP CEO Tony Hayward acknowledged Friday that the Deepwater Horizon spill is an "environmental disaster" – rather than, as he said two weeks ago, "relatively tiny." And BP keeps saying that it intends to pay all costs related to the disaster in the Gulf. Sorry, scratch that, "all legitimate claims" (legitimate is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and the company's judgment is questionable, to say the least). The Obama administration says they believe BP.
But we're already seeing signs that the company is trying to game the system. This week, BP asked the courts to give all pre-trial issues for the 98 lawsuits already filed against the company to a single federal judge–one that happens to have significant ties to the oil industry. The Miami Herald reports:
That judge, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, has traveled the world giving lectures on ethics for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, a professional association and research group that works with BP and other oil companies. The organization pays his travel expenses.
Hughes has also collected royalties from several energy companies, including ConocoPhillips and Devon Energy, from investments in mineral rights, his financial disclosure forms show.
The article points out that Hughes has ruled both for and against oil companies in previous cases. But it seems clear that the company wants someone to handle these suits who is more likely to be sympathetic to the company's views. BP also wants the cases heard in Houston, home of its US corporate headquarters, since it's easier for them than dealing with seven different courts in five states, most of them directly affected by the spill. The other option for consolidating the cases is in the New Orleans district court, but BP would likely get far less sympathy in the area most-impacted by this disaster.