NEW ORLEANS: The U.S. Justice Department and the five Gulf coast states affected by a massive oil spill nearly three years ago have indicated they would like to settle their environmental and economic claims with BP PLC ahead of a trial scheduled to start next week.
The problem is that they haven’t been able to agree on the possible terms of such an agreement. Months of negotiations have failed to resolve lingering differences — not just with the London oil giant, but among themselves.
The Justice Department convened a meeting with Gulf Coast state officials in Washington late last week in an effort to hammer out an offer to resolve the outstanding civil claims, but an agreement wasn’t reached, said a person familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said reaching a settlement that satisfies all states’ competing interests has been difficult.
“We just want to make sure we get our fair share,” he said. “We had more economic damage than probably any state because of the loss of all the tourism we had in 2010. So it’s very important that the people of Alabama are compensated for the losses related to the oil spill.”
Bentley said representatives of his office attended the meetings in Washington last week, but he declined to comment on the talks.
An 11th-hour settlement still could be reached before the trial starts Monday — or even after it has begun — but it is not surprising that a deal has proved elusive thus far in such a complex case, said David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor and former chief of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section.
“It’s extraordinarily difficult to negotiate any type of multiparty settlement, particularly when the sums involved reach into the tens of billions of dollars,” he said.