NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A leader in BP's oil spill cleanup claims the company fired him for refusing to change data so that BP could claim the cleanup phase was over and it could begin restoration, which a BP vice president told him "would have an upward impact on BP stock prices."
August Walter sued BP America in Federal Court.
"Walter began his employment with BP under its Gulf Coast Restoration Organization ('GCRO') with the position of State Planning Lead for the purpose of developing a descriptive plan to accomplish the cleaning of oil caused by the BP oil spill in April 2010," according to the complaint.
He claims BP fired him on Nov. 9, 2011, the day the company announced that it had cleaned up the Gulf Coast and was moving into the "restoration" phase of cleanup.
Walter says BP's cleanup plans had to be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard's Federal On-Scene Coordinator, and comply with federal and state environmental laws and regulations. He says BP's Shoreline Treatment Recommendations (STRs) also had to comply with the laws and be approved by the Coast Guard coordinator.
However, Walter says: "BP refused to follow the STRs and Walter opposed BP's refusal to comply. Ultimately BP demanded that Walter misrepresent clean-up data to get approval from the unified command to Legacy Coast Guard management."
Walter says the misrepresented data was meant to mislead Coast Guard officials into believing that the cleanup in Mississippi was nearly complete.
"Walter opposed this action and advised BP management and Unified Command of the problem. Walter was terminated shortly thereafter for a pretextual reason," according to the complaint.
BP's cleanup requires Coast Guard approval because BP shares responsibility for the cleanup with the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard holds 51 percent responsibility for the cleanup, BP 49 percent, according to the complaint.
The complaint states: "Beginning in May and June, 2011 Walter began to convey his concerns that BP Mississippi operations were intentionally not following the plans for cleanup delineated by the U.S. government, the Coast Guard, and the Department of Interior."
Walter claims BP was "defying" the Shoreline Treatment Recommendation by picking up only tar balls, while ignoring other, smaller oil debris.
"In September 2011 Walter advised BP that he was required to let the stakeholders know that BP was not following the STR," according to the complaint.
In response, Walter says, "BP began a malicious campaign to discredit him in retaliation for his opposition to BP's refusal to reasonably follow environmental rules and regulations."
Walter says that after he complained that BP was intentionally leaving oil on the beaches, the National Park Service and the Coast Guard scheduled a surprise visit to East Ship Island, where cleanup operations were going on. On the island, the federal representatives found BP's cleanup efforts were off the mark and the "these stakeholders reported verbally and in writing problems with BP's cleanup status," the complaint states.
Walter adds: "From approximately September 27, 2011 until the end of October 2011 Walter had multiple disagreements with BP management regarding the fact that BP was taking shortcuts in not following many environmental requirements ...