The Department of Justice (DOJ) has signaled that it may file a lawsuit against BP plc and other companies for civil violations involving the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a “statement of interest” filed in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans, the DOJ said it “may file a civil complaint related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster” for potential violations under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) and the Clean Water Act.

To avoid the possibility of overlap with other BP-related lawsuits, DOJ asked the court to establish a special government track for discovery and other pretrial proceedings to ensure that the government’s special position as a plaintiff will not be prejudiced by the litigation choices of private parties; and to provide a separate process for resolving issues that are uniquely governmental, especially those involving remedy issues.

In seeking a separate track, DOJ pointed out that some categories of remedy, such as removal costs expended by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund and certain damages under OPA, are available to only to governmental agencies. And “given the nature of the governmental claims, they may involve complex scientific and economic expert testimony that…may not be required to quantify the damages suffered by private plaintiffs,” the department said.

“As we have said from the beginning, we are committed to ensuring that those responsible [for the Gulf spill] clean up the mess they made, restore or replace the natural resources lost or injured in this tragedy and repay every cent of taxpayer money,” said DOJ spokeswoman Hannah August. The court filing “provides the United States’ views as to how to manage the cases, including suggesting a separate government track for potential state and federal complaints.”

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