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    Blast Victims Want BP to Pay $2B

    Victims' lawyers urge a judge to reject a plea bargain with the U.S. Justice Dept.

    HOUSTON -- Victims of the March 2005 explosion at BP's refinery in Texas City, Texas, said the company should pay at least $2 billion in criminal fines and submit to court-ordered monitoring to settle a criminal charge associated with the accident.

    Lawyers representing hundreds of victims of the deadly blast filed papers yesterday in federal court in Houston, urging a judge to reject the plea bargain that BP struck with the U.S. Justice Department in October, Bloomberg News reported.

    "The explosion was but one event in a long line of criminal, civil and regulatory violations, which continues to this day in spite of BP's repeated, but unfulfilled, promises to conform its conduct to federal law," lawyers said in court filings cited by Bloomberg News. "BP's criminal conduct was long-standing, conscious and deliberate."

    The plea bargain ended BP's criminal liability to the incident, and ordered the company to pay $50 million and pledge to comply with safety-improvement programs previously imposed by federal regulators, according to the report.

    Victims called the fine "shockingly lenient," and asked the judge to reject the deal and suggested a fine that would eliminate years of profits from the refinery, which earned more than $1 billion in the 14 months before the blast, Bloomberg News reported.

    BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell told Bloomberg News via e-mail that company officials hadn't read the filing yet. "We hope that in considering the plea agreement the court will recognize the public benefit that will come from encouraging companies to act as BP Products has in the aftermath of the tragedy at Texas City."

    He added: "We have spent more than $1.6 billion to compensate victims of the explosion and their families, eliminating the need for continued litigation and years of appeals."

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