NEW ORLEANS -- BP fired back Thursday evening at Gov. Bobby Jindal for a speech he gave Wednesday, saying Jindal and his coastal restoration chief's statements 'seem purposefully intended to mislead the public' about how much the oil giant has spent to fix damage to Louisiana's oiled coastline.
In a speech Wednesday, Jindal said BP had spent more on ads 'telling us how great they are' than it has 'actually restoring the natural resources' affected by BP's 2010 Gulf oil spill.
To back up the governor's statement, his coastal restoration chief Garret Graves told WWL-TV that BP had spent billions on cleanup and paying private claims, but less than $100 million on actual natural resources restoration, which is also required when companies violate environmental protection laws.
Meanwhile, Jindal's office pointed to reports last year in which BP said it would spend about $500 million on advertising to restore its image.
But BP's Geoff Morrell called Jindal and Graves' statements 'empty political rhetoric.'
'Statements by the governor and Mr. Graves that BP has spent more on advertising than on restoration are simply false and seem purposefully intended to mislead the public,' Morrell said.
Jindal also said in his speech that BP was not stepping up to pay for violations of the Clean Water Act while Transocean, the owner of the rig that sunk when BP's well blew out in April 2010, had struck an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to pay $800 million for its role in the spill.
In fact, in court filings last week, BP argued it should have no Clean Water Act liabilities because Transocean's rig, the Deepwater Horizon, was the source of the oil in spite of BP repeatedly admitting responsibility previously.
'BP had the audacity to file statements with the court suggesting that they are not responsible for paying any of the up to $17 billion in RESTORE Act funding for Gulf Coast states, counties and parishes for recovery and restoration,' Graves said. 'Their gross negligence and irresponsible behavior has no limits.'
Morrell contended Thursday that the governor's statements were unfair because the 'judicial and regulatory process' of establishing BP's liabilities under the Clean Water Act and the Natural Resources Damage Assessment which could combine to cost the company more than $28 billion was still in progress.
'There can be little doubt that Louisiana officials are aware of these facts,' Morrell said. 'Yet they continue to raise unrealistic and unwarranted expectations about what their constituents and the state should expect, as they look to spend money they do not have.'
Graves responded to BP's response by snarkily saying the back-and-forth was 'the most attention BP has given the citizens of the Gulf in years.' He also accused the company of 'efforts to invent recovery and restoration.'
Initially, BP did not address the specific charge Jindal was making. The company released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying the $26 billion it had spent on oil spill cleanup and private economic loss claims far outpaced anything it had spent on its ubiquitous advertising that touts its dedication to the Gulf Coast and America.
WWL-TV did not publish the statement because it did not address the point made by Jindal.
But on Thursday, BP provided more specific data to refute Jindal and Graves' statements. After saying Wednesday that it had 'committed up to $1 billion' to address state and federal governments' Natural Resources Damage claims, BP's Geoff Morrell said Thursday that the company has actually 'already spent approximately $1 billion' to address those claims, including more than $500 million paid directly to the natural resources trustees -- which are the five Gulf states, the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Graves said the claim that BP had spent the $1 billion is 'simply a lie.'
Morrell said BP's agreements to fund restoration projects include $370 million for Louisiana projects. He noted that BP gave $260 million to Jindal's sand berm project and called it a 'political pet project' that was found to be ineffective.
Morrell also criticized state officials for a lack of progress on 10 projects BP agreed to fund in February.
'Only a small fraction of these funds have been paid,' Graves responded.