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The DOJ delivers the Comey memos to Congress. Also on our rundown: More evidence that rent prices are out of reach in many markets; Wisconsin counties brace for sulfide mining; and the Earth Day focus this weekend in North Dakota is on recycling.

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BP Found "Grossly Negligent" in 2010 Gulf Oil Spill

PHOTO: A federal judge has ruled BP showed "gross negligence" in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which means the company's fines for violating the Clean Water Act will quadruple. Photo courtesy of bridgethegulfproject.org.
PHOTO: A federal judge has ruled BP showed "gross negligence" in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which means the company's fines for violating the Clean Water Act will quadruple. Photo courtesy of bridgethegulfproject.org.
September 5, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - BP now stands to pay up to $17 billion in Clean Water Act fines after a judge on Thursday ruled the oil company was "grossly negligent" in its conduct leading up to the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010.

While the judge's decision did not surprise groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, the swiftness of the decision did, said Steve Cochran, director of the fund's Mississippi River Restoration Project.

"People did not expect this to occur until sometime next year," he said. "For those of us who work on restoration, the main thing we're interested in is, 'Let's get this settled,' so that the resources can flow to places like Florida."

The finding of "gross negligence" means BP is liable for fines under the Clean Water Act of up to four times the established penalty per barrel of oil spilled. A trial is to begin in January to establish how much was spilled; the federal government estimates more than 4 million barrels, while BP insists the total is a little more than half that amount.

Ultimately, much of the money will go into the Gulf Restoration Fund, established by Congress to help manage the fines collected for projects to help repair damage from the oil spill. Beyond that, Cochran said, the judge's ruling sends a clear message to other offshore drilling operations.

"This case says very clearly at this point, 'If you don't take your responsibility seriously, and you let something like this happen, you're going to pay dearly for it,' " Cochran said.

Cochran and others said the ruling also increases the company's liability for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act. BP said it strongly disagrees with the decision issued Thursday and will immediately appeal. The two other parties involved in the spill, Halliburton and Transocean, were ruled to be "negligent."

The text of the ruling is online at laed.uscourts.gov. BP's statement in response is at bp.com.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - FL