Justice Delayed For Mayflower Oil Spill Victims

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As the government shutdown enters its third week, new and disturbing side effects are beginning to surface.  These adverse affects are arising from the U.S. court system, where federal prosecutors are unable to perform their day-to-day activities in many cases due to a lack of federal funding.

While this is bad news for American citizens, it is great news to oil giant ExxonMobil.  The federal prosecutors handling the case against Exxon for their Pegasus pipeline tar sands spill have been forced to request that the judge overseeing the lawsuits against Exxon delay the suit until government operations resume.

The U.S. attorneys and environmental investigators from the Justice Department and EPA are unable to work on the case due to the lack of funding.  According to the Associated Press, these workers are not even able to work on the case on their own time without pay, since it is a federal, not civil, suit.

In addition to the federal lawsuit, Exxon is currently facing at least $1.7 million in federal fines for the tar sands spill.  But again, as long as the government remains partially shut down, there is not enough staff to go around, and those fines will remain unpaid.  It is estimated that at least 94% of the entire EPA staff is currently furloughed as a result of the government shutdown.

This news is particularly disturbing for the residents of Mayflower, Arkansas, as they had worked very hard to get the lawsuit fast-tracked in the wake of the spill earlier this year.  The longer the shutdown lasts, the longer it will take for justice to be served against Exxon.  It also means that residents will go even longer without relief from the dangers affects of the diluted bitumen.

But not every dirty energy company is basking in the glow of the shutdown – some are being hit pretty hard in the pocketbook. 

BP was slapped with a suspension from new government contracts late last year, as a result of a criminal plea deal stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.  The company filed suit against the government earlier this year to have the suspension reversed, but a judge has now delayed the case until the government reopens.  The EPA had until October 15th to respond to the complaint by BP, but the shutdown has given them additional time.

As long as federal regulators are unable to respond to BP’s suit, they will remain barred from obtaining any new federal contracts.  This may not be particularly significant at the moment; given that the shutdown has halted new drilling permits, but it will put them far behind their competitors once the permitting process picks up again.

But for Exxon, the slightest delay in the massive lawsuit against their company is enough.  The company will continue pulling in billions in profits during this time, and their lawyers will have more time to work on their case while the prosecution is forbidden from working on it.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

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