Holding BP accountable for costs

Two and a half years after the massive gulf oil spill, BP has agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges brought by the Justice Department and cough up $4.5 billion in fines and other payments.

This is not the first financial penalty the British oil giant has paid for its careless and destructive behavior, nor should it be the last. Still to come are multibillion-dollar settlements under various environmental laws. The Justice Department must be no less diligent in pressing these claims and should not settle for anything less than what the Gulf Coast, its battered environment and its residents require in order to address the long-term consequences of this disaster.

Under the settlement announced last week, payable over five years, the company agreed to plead guilty to 11 felony counts of misconduct or negligence, all related to the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which claimed 11 lives and unleashed an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, the Justice Department has charged two senior officials aboard the rig with manslaughter and a third company official with obstructing a congressional investigation.

In its statement last week, BP promised its shareholders that it would vigorously defend itself against further penalties. The criminal plea could complicate its efforts to contain the cost of remaining civil claims. But nothing would be more important now than a vigorous effort by the Obama administration to pursue the remaining penalties under federal environmental laws.