Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley announced a settlement agreement with BP this morning, ending years of litigation against the international petroleum corporation for its role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Alabama will receive $2.3 billion of a total settlement agreement valued at $18.5 billion.
Of that, $1.3 billion will be allocated to environmental and economic damages, while the remaining $1 billion will be distributed into the state’s general fund over the next 18 years — an amount equalling $55.5 million per year.
“While today’s news will never be able to make up for the loss or the hurt experienced by so many Alabamians, it’s a good step forward toward making Alabama whole again,” Bentley said. “April 20, 2010 is a day Alabamians, especially those living along the coast, will never forget. This event caused a tremendous amount of damage to our environment, but it also caused damage to our economy, and while neither is more important than the other, both deeply harmed our state.”
Bentley was joined by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, who both touted the state’s role in bringing a settlement to fruition years earlier some had expected. As the first state to prepare and schedule a trial date against BP, Bentley and Strange said Alabama had taken a leadership role in the recovery process from the very beginning.
“This victory was built upon hard work,” Strange said. “I’m very proud of our team of lawyers, which was used instead of an outside firm to save taxpayer money. Our team has been up against the finest, and well resourced lawyers in the world. I couldn’t be more proud of the great men and women who have represented the state of Alabama.”
Despite the annual infusion into the state’s depleted general fund over the next 18 years, Bentley said the settlement wasn’t the answer to all of Alabama’s financial woes.
As Bentley mentioned more than once, the details of when the payments will start and when they’ll be received each year haven’t been ironed out. Bentley also emphasized that $50 million equals only about 12.5 percent of the budget deficit facing lawmakers when they return in a special legislative session later this year.
“I just don’t want the legislature to think this is going to solve the problem, because it’s not,” he said. “We still have to have a special session. We’ve got to be looking to Oct. 1 and the 2016 budget.”
Eliska Morgan, executive director of the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council, which will administer the state’s RESTORE Act funds, said it was “a very good settlement overall,” but deferred further comment to the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, who was not immediately available.
Baldwin County Commissioner Skip Gruber, who sits on the Council, said he will wait to see how the funds will be disbursed before commenting on specific projects proposals. There are currently more than $1.5 billion in proposed projects submitted to the Council’s website.
“I don’t quite understand it all yet,” Gruber said Thursday. “I want to know how much will go to RESTORE projects. There are too many questions yet to be answered and not a whole lot of details.”
“There are several worthy projects between Mobile and Baldwin counties that need to be funded, but I’d have to see how funds will be disbursed before commenting. There are some projects that really need to be done, though. There are more proposed projects than there is money. We need more details before the council can determine the right thing to do.”
In statement released on BP’s website published around the same time as the state’s press conference, BP’s group chief executive Bob Dudley described the settlement as “a realistic outcome which provides clarity and certainty for all parties.”
“For BP, this agreement will resolve the largest liabilities remaining from the tragic accident and enable BP to focus on safely delivering the energy the world needs,” he said. “For the United States and the Gulf in particular, this agreement will deliver a significant income stream over many years for further restoration of natural resources and for losses related to the spill.”
Updated to include comments from Skip Gruber. Eric Mann and Gabriel Tynes contributed to this report.