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The U.S. House voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt for defying congressional subpoenas related to the U.S. census.

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Environmental "Trial of the Century" to Start Today

PHOTO: Oil found in Gulf wetlands in 2012. Courtesy: Craig Guillot, NWF
PHOTO: Oil found in Gulf wetlands in 2012. Courtesy: Craig Guillot, NWF
February 25, 2013

NASHUA, N.H. - Billions of dollars and the health of the Gulf Coast are on the line as the civil trial against BP begins on Monday in New Orleans. Based on provisions in the Oil Pollution Act and the Clean Water Act, the company could be ordered to pay $40 billion in damages.

Brian Moore, legislative director for the National Audubon Society, said it is important to make sure there are enough resources to repair the damage done to the Gulf, both now and in the future.

"We believe this is a living disaster," he said, "and we still don't know the full environmental impacts. There's a single rule we all should be reminded of – we've seen it posted in stores - which is 'You broke it, you've bought it.' This is a broken ecosystem."

The Deepwater Horizon blowout in 2010 leaked an estimated 170 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, making it the largest environmental disaster in the country's history.

John Kostyack, vice president of Wildlife Conservation for the National Wildlife Federation, said the NWF and other conservation groups understand it is important to secure the money from BP to fully begin the restoration process.

"The Department of Justice has a responsibility to set a penalty amount that factors in BP's assets," he said, "and the risk that they will continue business as usual if their bottom line is not affected by any settlement."

Because of the Restore Act, passed and signed into law last year, 80 percent of the funds collected from BP will go to the restoration and health of the Gulf Coast, but those funds are on hold until the remaining cases are resolved.

Federal investigators said efforts by BP to cut down on costs and save time were what lead to the oil spill.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NH