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BP rewarded while Gulf region struggles to recover

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Oil spill response legislation has stalled in the Senate.

Gulf shrimpers are having their worst season in more than 50 years.

Two thousand claims a week are still rolling into the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement issued a permit to BP to drill its first deepwater drill since the devastating Macondo well blowout in April 2010. This came just two days after the company reported its third quarter earnings; profits nearly doubled from the same quarter last year, from $1.8 billion to $4.9 billion.

According to The Houston Chronicle, BP plans to drill the newly approved well in 6,034 feet of water – about 1,000 feet deeper than its doomed Macondo project. Drilling could begin within days using Seadrill’s three-year-old West Sirius semi-submersible rig.

Meanwhile, shrimpers along the Gulf Coast are calling the season the worst in memory. Some fishermen said their catches were off by 80 percent or more.

And while the BP Compensation Fund has paid out nearly $6 billion of the $20 billion escrow account to those harmed by the spill, BP has yet to pay oil spill penalties under the Clean Water Act and other federal regulations. Critics of the fund also note that 300,000 claims have been denied. In the event that the $20 billion has not been paid out by the time the fund expires in August 2013, the balance will be returned to BP.

It seems inconceivable that BP is being rewarded while the Gulf region is still reeling from the worst oil spill in U.S. history.  Even more problematic is that questions still remain about the effectiveness of the new blowout preventer design. And in the event of a failure, BP estimates it would take 184 days to drill a relief well at the site. The Macondo well spewed oil for 86 days before it was successfully capped.

This hardly can be considered “holding BP accountable.” The Gulf of Mexico region is far from being made whole. Policy regulating deepwater drilling – including the extent to which we hold responsible parties accountable for oil spill – still do not reflect the lesson learned from the BP oil disaster. And while BP accountability, Gulf Coast recovery and inadequate oil drilling policy are related issues they are also symptoms of a much larger issue our inability to implement a long-term energy agenda that prioritizes investment in clean energy technology and infrastructure and our inability to rein in repeat corporate criminals.

In fact, these injustices should be added to the long list of grievances that have fueled the growing Occupy Movement.