Judge won't let Sierra Club join oil spill lawsuit

A federal magistrate judge won't allow the Sierra Club to join a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department against BP and other companies over last year's disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Judge Sally Shushan said in her order Tuesday that the environmental group can file briefs with the court to make its positions known and, if there is a settlement, it would be allowed to present public comment.

The Justice Department had objected to the Sierra Club's Feb. 7 motion to intervene, arguing that if the request was granted the rights of the United States would be hurt by denying it exclusive control over the prosecution of its claims.

The group said it wanted a seat at the table to make sure coastal communities are fairly represented and compensated. It also said it wanted to make sure money from BP fines goes to restoring the Gulf Coast.

Sierra Club legal director Patrick Gallagher said the group was considering its legal options. He said the Sierra Club's goal remains to hold BP fully accountable for the damage from the oil spill and to ensure that the voices of those affected are heard.

The Obama administration sued BP in December in federal court in New Orleans for damages under the Oil Pollution Act and the Clean Water Act. Other defendants included offshore drilling firm Transocean, oil and gas exploration and production firm Anadarko and certain insurers.

An April 20, 2010, explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the coast of Louisiana killed 11 workers and led to more than 200 million gallons of oil spewing from a well a mile beneath the sea, according to government estimates. BP owned the well and was leasing the rig from Transocean. Numerous lawsuits, including the one filed by Justice, are pending. A trial is scheduled for February to determine whether Transocean can limit what it pays claimants under maritime law and to assign percentages of fault to Transocean and other companies involved in the disaster.