RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Five years after a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, oil giant BP has agreed to pay nearly $19 billion in a settlement announced today by Gulf Coast states and the federal government. The deal pays for harm from BP's Gulf oil spill - the worst in U.S. history. NPR's Debbie Elliott has been covering the legal battle since that disaster and joins us now. Good morning.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.
MONTAGNE: Now, let's just say that number again. I'll say it very accurate to what it is - $18.7 billion. That's a huge figure. What is it intended to cover?
ELLIOTT: You know, this covers - it's a global deal. It covers both lawsuits brought by state governments, local governments and the federal government. This comes, as we were awaiting, any day now a judgment from New Orleans federal judge Carl Barbier. He had already found that BP's gross negligence led to the disaster, and he was set to calculate Clean Water Act fines - a figure that could have topped $13.7 billion. So, this settlement is much higher than that because it also settles lawsuits that had been brought by Gulf Coast states - they had sued over economic and environmental harm - and money that BP would have to pay in the future to restore the Gulf ecosystem under a program called the Natural Resources Damage Assessment.
MONTAGNE: And it also comes, I gather, on top of lawsuits that Gulf - that BP has settled with individuals and businesses but all together, of course, that the Gulf was hit - the coast was hit with a - this massive spill, terribly. You covered the catastrophe. Can you remind us now of the impact?
ELLIOTT: Yeah, it was a April of 2010. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, 11 rig workers were immediately killed, the rig was on fire, it sunk. BP had this out of control well that was spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico pretty much unchecked for about three months before BP engineers were able to figure out how to stop it. In the meantime, you know, oil hit beaches, covered birds - we remember the pictures of oiled pelicans from that time - affected sea life, wetlands for thousands of miles, really stretching from Texas to Florida. And the impacts, you know, still linger.
Scientists are still trying to determine the long-term consequences of this. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley today, talking about the deal, said, you know, we can never make up for the loss and hurt that was suffered by people during this spill. The economic hit was very severe along Gulf Coast beaches, but it's a good step toward making the Gulf Coast whole.
MONTAGNE: Well the - we've just run out of time here, Debbie, so we'll be hearing more about this later. Thanks very much.
ELLIOTT: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Debbie Elliott speaking to us from Orange Beach, Ala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.