MONTGOMERY, Ala. (CN) – Alabama Attorney General Troy King sued BP and allied companies for the “unprecedented environmental disaster” in the Gulf of Mexico. But hours before King did it, Gov. Bob Riley filed an executive order limiting his attorney general’s power to hire outside counsel to go after the oil giant.
Both officials are Republicans.
King filed two federal lawsuits – one against BP and three BP affiliates, the other against Transocean, Anadarko Petroleum, Halliburton Energy Services and other companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil platform and its operations.
King seeks damages for the “past, present and future physical injury to and destruction of State resources and property,” including “damages equal to the net loss of taxes, royalties, rents, fees, or net profit shares due to the injury, destruction, or loss of real property, personal property, or natural resources;” damages for impaired earning capacities, and “net costs of providing increased or additional public services during or after removal activities, including protection from fire, safety, or health hazards, caused by the discharge of the oil.”
King claims the defendants’ conduct before and after the oil rig explosion and spill “illustrates the scheme to maximize profits and ignore dangerous risks posed to human health and property.” He also claims the “defendants failed to institute proper oil disaster response plans to contain the catastrophic oil release.”
But Gov. Riley – formerly a political ally of King, and the man who appointed King to his post – signed an executive order tying the attorney’s general’s hands. Riley’s order states that any legal contract containing a contingency fee or legal fees of more than $195 an hour must be approved by his office.
Riley told the Birmingham Press-Register than King’s lawsuits were “premature,” and could complicate the state’s negotiations with BP and its associates. The governor claimed he also wanted to stop private attorneys from taking “an exorbitant share of the money owed to Alabama,” the Press-Register reported.
Riley said King offered private counsel contingency fees of 14 percent of the state’s claim – fees that Riley said could hit $20 million, based on his estimates that Alabama suffered about $140 million in damages from the oil spill.
Riley told the newspaper his executive order “protects taxpayers from getting ripped off by lawyers who expect to make millions of dollars, even when they play no actual role in getting Alabamians the payments they deserve.”
King said his office has not signed any contracts with outside counsel, and said the governor was mistaken if he thought the state could handle litigation against the world’s second-largest oil company without help.
“This is one of the biggest corporations in the world,” King told the Press-Register. “They know the budget constrictions we’ve got. They are absolutely rubbing their hands with glee at the idea we won’t bring in outside counsel.”
Surprisingly, neither King nor Riley are running for re-election. Both will leave office in January.
In his complaint against the oil giant, King said that BP admitted to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight that its oil well had failed a key pressure test hours before the April 20 explosion, but BP kept drilling and did not suspend operations.
After the explosion, King says, the defendants “attempted to downplay and conceal the severity of the oil disaster.”
“Oil, dispersants and other materials and substances discharged by the defendants into the Gulf of Mexico is currently now damaging and will continue to damage for generations to come the waters, property, estuaries, seabed, animals, plants, beaches, shorelines, coastlines, islands, marshlands and other natural and economic resources of the State of Alabama,” King claims.
He seeks punitive and compensatory damages and costs of remediation, alleging negligence, trespass, nuisance and violation of the Federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990.