January 25, 2012 12:44:00 PM
By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
NEW ORLEANS -- A former BP employee has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the company, claiming he was fired for airing concerns about the cleanup of Mississippi's shoreline after the Gulf oil spill.
In a federal suit filed last Friday in New Orleans, August Walter claims one of his BP bosses manipulated data on shoreline cleanup and didn't give the Coast Guard "the true status" of what substances needed to be cleaned.
Walter, a Covington, La., resident who helped develop BP's cleanup plans in Mississippi after the 2010 spill began, claims in the suit that he was fired last month in retaliation for complaining that BP wasn't following environmental regulations and was "picking and choosing what oil to pick up."
Walter also claims he refused to misrepresent data so that the Coast Guard would believe cleanup activities in Mississippi were closer to completion.
"This was all based on money and had nothing to do with actually cleaning up the oil or meeting the (Shoreline Treatment Recommendations) or environmental requirements," the suit alleges.
BP spokesman Tom Mueller said the company doesn't believe Walter's allegations have merit but will investigate "consistent with our personnel policies and code of conduct. "
"We believe we have demonstrated good faith in meeting our obligations in the Gulf and are committed to treating our employees fairly," Mueller said in a statement.
BP said in November that it had spent $13.6 billion on the response, including its efforts to clean up 635 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline affected by the spill. By then, more than 90 percent of the affected area had "met the agreed upon standards" for transitioning from the cleanup phase to coastal restoration, BP said.
Walter's lawsuit claims BP took "short cuts," with one BP official allegedly saying BP only would clean up tar balls and not smaller oil debris.
The allegations in Walter's suit are limited to BP's cleanup in Mississippi. The company implemented similar plans in Louisiana, Alabama and Florida after an April 20, 2005, blowout in BP's Macondo well triggered a deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and led to the worst offshore oil spill in the nation's history.
Walter started working for BP in May 2011 as a "state planning lead" on Mississippi cleanup. The suit, which alleges violations of the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute, seeks unspecified monetary damages, including three years of lost wages.
"He wasn't the lead man on the project, but he had three people working under him," said Walter's attorney, James Arruebarrena.
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