21 November 2007 21:40 [Source: ICIS news]
The explosion killed 15 people.
The recusal of US District Judge Gray Miller follows a request made by the law firm, Perry & Haas, to increase BP's penalty to more than $1bn (€680,000), up substantially from the $50m fine proposed by a plea agreement.
The plea agreement was made under the nation's Clean Air Act, according to court documents.
In the filing, lawyer David Perry described the proposed $50m penalty "as being shockingly lenient and providing preferential treatment to this corporate criminal".
The amount is inconsequential, given the financial resources of BP, Perry wrote. In addition, the fine is a fraction of the maximum allowed by US law, Perry said.
The Texas city refinery produced $1bn in profits during 14 months preceding the explosion, Perry wrote. That figure should be the base line for any penalty, as it represents the profits that BP earned from what Perry called the company's illegal conduct.
"Failure to require [BP] to disgorge its ill-gotten gains, and allowing it to retain a massive profit from its criminal conduct . . . is outrageously deficient," Perry wrote. "[BP] will still hold 95% of its illegal profit."
Also, the agreement provides BP with what Perry calls "sweeping prosecutorial immunity," which would shield the company from possible unrevealed offences.
A BP spokesman said the company had no comments about Perry's filing.
However, in a court filing, BP called the $50m fine the largest ever imposed under the nation's Clean Air Act.
"The record fine recognises BP Products' violations that led to the accident, as well as the horrible consequences of the accident," the oil firm said in the filing.
In addition, BP has already spent $1.6bn to compensate the victims of the explosion, the filing said. Moreover, the company has resolved more than 1,650 personal injury claims that arose from the explosion.
Under the plea agreement, BP will cooperate with US agencies and continue improving safety at the refinery, the filing said.
($1.00 = €0.68)
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