BP and Shell fined for dirty fuel

European energy giants BP and Shell have agreed to pay fines totalling $1.5 million to the USA's Environmental Protection Agency after distributing petrol that did not meet legal pollution standards.

The EPA sets standards for petrol and diesel under the Clean Air Act to reduce pollutants including particulates and carbon monoxide.

Although the USA is often portrayed as an environmental pariah due to the Bush administration's refusal to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol, its record on air quality legislation is exemplary, setting higher standards for vehicle emissions than the EU.

Both companies failed to meet these standards with some of the fuel they produced and distributed between 1999 and 2004.

Some of the failures were reported by the companies themselves, others were discovered by EPA investigations.

BP agreed to pay a civil penalty of $900,000 while Shell agreed to pay $600,000.

"These settlements underscore both the importance of enforcement of EPA standards to protect the public health, and the value of vigorous environmental enforcement efforts to address violations at multiple facilities," said Granta Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator of enforcement and compliance assurance.

"All Americans benefit when corporations bring their facilities into compliance with our nation's fuels regulations because our citizens breathe cleaner air."

Issuing the fines is not seen as a criminal punishment, with civil penalties in the USA designed to compensate for damage caused and pay for mitigation rather than to penalise companies for wrong-doing.

The fines are, in any case, unlikely to have a significant financial impact on either of the companies, both of which reported profits in excess of $16 billion last year, with the fines equivalent to less than half an hour's earnings.

Sam Bond



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