WASHINGTON – Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress on Tuesday that the Justice Department is prepared to go to trial against companies involved in the Gulf oil spill if ongoing negotiations do not result in a settlement.
At a hearing before a House appropriations subcommittee, the attorney general vowed that the federal government will hold people accountable in both a civil trial in federal court in New Orleans, if necessary, and in a criminal investigation.
Under questioning by Republican Rep. Jo Bonner of Alabama, Holder agreed that the accident was the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
On Sunday, a judge called for a one-week delay in the start of the civil trial while negotiations continue. The trial had been scheduled to begin Monday.
On Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Holder declined to elaborate on the discussions.
In late January, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said that the Justice Department led a meeting in Washington among the states in an effort to formulate an agreement that would satisfy federal government and state claims, including penalties and fines. Strange also indicated at the time that if there is a settlement that officials were discussing what to do with the $20 billion fund set up by BP to pay victims, with one option being folding the fund and allowing the money to be used as part of any settlement.