NEW ORLEANS (AP) — It will be oil giant BP's turn Monday to call witnesses as it makes its case for a civil penalty lower than the $13.7 billion the federal government is seeking for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The second week of a three-week trial was set to begin in New Orleans. Last week, government experts testified about environmental, economic and social damage arising from the spill. BP attorneys disputed much of that testimony, and have argued the recovery of the environment and the Gulf economy has been strong.
Also at issue in the trial is whether a heavy penalty would put too much financial strain on BP Exploration and Production — also known as BPXP. That's the affiliate in the BP corporate group deemed responsible for the spill.
The government has argued in briefs that other BP companies' resources should be considered when the judge weighs the effect of a penalty on BPXP's economic health.
Among the first witnesses BP attorneys are expected to call are BP executive Laura Folse and Frank Paskewich, a retired Coast Guard captain familiar with oil spill cleanup work. They are expected to counter government witness testimony downplaying the effectiveness of BP's oil recovery efforts.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is presiding over the case. He isn't expected to rule until April at the earliest. Based on two earlier trial phases, he has already ruled that BP acted with "gross negligence" in the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig at BP's Macondo well. BP is appealing that finding.
Barbier also ruled recently that 3.19 million barrels of oil was discharged as a result of the disaster. The government wants a maximum penalty of $4,300 per barrel, or about $13.7 billion. Under the federal RESTORE Act, passed after the spill, 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties would be set aside for environmental and economic restoration projects along the Gulf Coast. The remaining dollars will go into a federal trust fund to cover costs tied to any future oil spills.
BP estimates it has already piled up $42 billion in costs related to the spill, including cleanup costs, criminal penalties and settlements with businesses affected by the spill.
In addition to pushing for the hefty BP penalty, the government has suggested a $1 billion-plus penalty for Anadarko, a minority partner in the Macondo well. Anadarko is fighting that penalty, noting it was a non-operational partner in the well.
Devastating tornadoes, destructive thunderstorms and other severe weather events can strike at any time. In order to prepare all Georgians for the possibility of a disaster, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security’s Ready Georgia campaign once again joins forces with Gov. Nathan Deal to raise awareness about the importance of emergency preparedness.
NEW DELHI (AP) — As President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met in New Delhi this week, the shadow of a third player hung over the talks: neighboring China, which has complicated relationships with both the United States and India.
To Obama, forging deeper ties with India fits in neatly with his efforts to deepen U.S. influence in countries on China's doorstep. And as the world's largest democracy, India is a particularly attractive partner to the U.S. as it seeks to cultivate a robust regional counterbalance to communist China.
India and China are ostensibly allies, and Modi warmly welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping to New Delhi last year. But India is also worried about China's maneuvering in the region— particularly in the Indian Ocean and at the Himalayan border between the two countries — and sees fostering improved relations with the U.S. as key to bolstering its own defense posture.
"There is a triangular game in play from Delhi's point of view," said Ashley Tellis, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Modi wants "all of the benefits that come from being seen as working in close collaboration with the United States," including access to American technology, expertise and military cooperation, said Tellis.
The U.S. and India have each cast Obama's three-day visit to New Delhi as a symbol of their efforts to strengthen a relationship that has been plagued by tension and suspicion. Obama is the first U.S. leader to visit India twice as president, and the first to be honored as the chief guest at India's annual Republic Day parade.
Obama and Modi sat side-by-side Monday in a glass-enclosed viewing box as Indian tanks and rocket launchers rolled by and fighter jets sped across the sky overhead. The president later convened a meeting of U.S. and Indian business executives, a gathering aimed at bolstering economic cooperation between the two countries.
Obama's trip didn't go unnoticed in China, where foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said U.S.-India relations "could promote mutual trust and cooperation in the region." But the state-run news agency Xinhua dismissed Obama's visit as "more symbolic than pragmatic, given the long-standing division between the two giants, which may be as huge as the distance between them."
Commentary in China's government-controlled media is frequently used as a means of criticizing or casting doubt on the diplomatic moves of other countries.
When asked about the Chinese take, Obama's deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said, "It's notable that they should feel like they have to go out of their way to comment on this visit."
The subtle jab underscored the complexity of the dynamic between the U.S. and China, the world's two largest economies.
Obama's visit to Beijing in November generated a surprising amount of consensus on a range of issues, including an ambitious agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions that the White House hopes will push nations like India toward similar pacts. But Washington has deep concerns about Beijing's actions on such matters as regional territorial disputes, computer hacking and currency manipulation.
India is particularly concerned about China's quiet quest for greater influence in the Indian Ocean, where has long been New Delhi's domain. The tankers that move through the Indian Ocean are critical for India's oil supply, and any significant slowdown in tanker traffic could cripple its economy. India is also concerned about the Chinese troops that regularly move across its unmarked Himalayan border with China.
Rahul Bedi, an analyst for Jane's Information Group, said India's goal within the next two decades is to develop military capabilities that would enable them to take on China.
"India can't do that on its own, so we need somebody like America to hold our hand," Bedi said.
Obama and Modi agreed to extend a 10-year defense pact that the White House said would allow for deeper military-to-military engagement and increase maritime cooperation. Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said a defense partnership between the U.S. and India "will help forge security and stability in Asia and across the globe."
Still, regional experts caution that there are limits to how far India, a nation that championed a policy of nonalignment during the Cold War, will go in joining together with the U.S. to counter China.
"India does not want to seem like it's banding together with the United States or with other countries to go against China," said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Wilson Center. Kugelman said that while Modi is moving away from his country's nonalignment policy, "its influence is very strong."
Associated Press writers Muneeza Naqvi and Tim Sullivan in New Delhi, and Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report. Follow Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has taken his firmest step yet toward running for president, launching an organization that allows him to raise money for a potential 2016 campaign.
Opening the political action committee allows Christie to begin to hire staffers, build the foundations of a campaign operation and travel across the country as he weighs a final decision on a run. He's not expected to announce a final decision until spring.
The organization, called Leadership Matters for America, comes not long after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced in December a similar organization. Bush's move kicked off an aggressive race to lock down establishment donors and may have drawn 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney into the race.
A mission statement on the Christie organization's website echoes themes that Christie has focused in recent speeches, including remarks on Saturday in Iowa to conservative activists.
"America has been a nation that has always controlled events and yet today events control us. Why? Because leadership matters," the mission statement reads.
Christie is expected to hit the fundraising circuit soon, with events in big money states like New York, Connecticut, Florida and California.
Christie, a former federal prosecutor, has been in the GOP's presidential discussion since 2012, when he passed on the race and was later considered by Romney as a potential running mate.
He's proven himself as a capable fundraiser as chair of the Republican Governors Association, but is still hampered by the still-pending federal investigation into accusations that former staff members and appointees created traffic jams as political payback against the Democratic mayor of a New York suburb by blocking access lanes to the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan.
In the past several months, Christie has courted donors, convened late-night briefing sessions on foreign policy and made repeated visits to early-voting states.
His PAC's early hires include fundraisers and operators with presidential campaign experience.
Ray Washburne, who recently stepped down from his post as finance chair of the Republican National Committee, will serve the same roll for the Christie PAC. Phil Cox, executive director of the Republican Governors Association while Christie was chair last year will be a senior adviser, as will Christie's longtime political hand, Mike DuHaime. Cam Henderson, who has worked on the state's Superstorm Sandy rebuilding effort, will serve as finance director, while James Garcia, Romney's national field director in 2012, will be political director. Paige Hahn, the RGA's outgoing finance director, will play a role on the finance team.
Matt Mowers, a former Christie aide who is stepping down from his job as executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party at the end of the month, will work in that early-voting state, while Phil Valenziano, who served as political director for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad re-election campaign, will help lead Christie's team there. Christie is named as the PAC's honorary chairman.
Paperwork for the group was filed on Friday with the Federal Election Commission, DuHaime said. The Wall Street Journal first reported that the PAC was created.
HONOLULU (AP) — Two small planes ran out of fuel and crash-landed into the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii, but the five people aboard both aircraft survived, authorities said.
The Coast Guard says the separate incidents Sunday involved a single-engine plane carrying a solo pilot about 250 miles off the island of Maui, and another with four people aboard several miles off the island of Oahu.
A pilot traveling from Tracy, California, to Maui radioed authorities at 12:30 p.m. about plans to ditch a Cirrus SR-22 aircraft because of dwindling fuel.
The Coast Guard directed the plane to go down near a cruise ship, and the pilot deployed a parachute system around 4:45 p.m. and safely got into a life raft. Amid 9- to 12-foot seas and winds of 25 to 28 mph, the cruise-ship crew rescued the pilot, who was in good condition, authorities said.
Coast Guard video shows the plane releasing its parachute and briefly dropping nose-first before leveling out and plopping into the sea. The pilot escapes out the top of the aircraft and drifts away in a small raft from the plane before it rolls over on its top.
In a second crash Sunday, a single-engine Cessna flying from Kauai to Oahu with four aboard declared an emergency at 6:18 p.m., saying fuel was running low and the plane may need to ditch, the Coast Guard said.
It crash-landed about 11 miles west of Oahu, and a Coast Guard helicopter hoisted three adults and one child. All four received emergency treatment, but their conditions weren't immediately available.
NEW YORK (AP) — The Philadelphia-to-Boston corridor of more than 35 million people began shutting down and bundling up Monday against a potentially history-making storm that could unload a paralyzing 1 to 3 feet of snow.
More than 5,000 flights in and out of the Northeast were canceled, and many of them may not take off again until Wednesday. Schools and businesses let out early. And cities mobilized snowplows and salt spreaders to deal with a dangerously windy blast that could instantly make up for what has been a largely snow-free winter in the urban Northeast.
Snow was already falling during the morning commute in several cities, including Philadelphia and New York, with Boston up next in the afternoon. Forecasters said the brunt of the storm would hit Monday evening and into Tuesday.
All too aware that big snowstorms can make or break politicians, governors and mayors moved quickly to declare emergencies and order the shutdown of highways, streets and mass transit systems to prevent travelers from getting stranded and to enable plows and emergency vehicles to get through.
"You cannot underestimate this storm. It is not a regular storm," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio warned in ordering city streets closed to all but emergency vehicles beginning at 11 p.m. "What you are going to see in a few hours is something that hits very hard and very fast."
Boston is expected to get 2 to 3 feet, New York 1½ to 2 feet, and Philadelphia more than a foot. The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for a 250-mile swath of the region, meaning heavy, blowing snow and potential whiteout conditions.
In Hartford, Connecticut, Frank Kurzatkowski stopped for gas and said he also filled several five-gallon buckets of water at his home in case the power went out and his well pump failed.
"I've got gas cans filled for my snowblowers," he said. "I have four-wheel-drive."
Supermarkets and hardware stores did a brisk trade as light snow fell in New Jersey.
Nicole Coelho, 29, a nanny from Lyndhurst, New Jersey, was preparing to pick up her charges early from school and stocking up on macaroni and cheese, frozen pizzas and milk at a supermarket. She also was ready in case of a power outage.
"I'm going to make sure to charge up my cellphone, and I have a good book I haven't gotten around to reading yet," she said.
About half of all flights out of New York's LaGuardia Airport were called off Monday, and about 60 percent of flights heading into the airport were scratched. Boston's Logan Airport said there would be no flights after 7 p.m. Monday.
The storm posed one of the biggest tests yet for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who has been in office for less than three weeks. He warned residents to prepare for power outages and roads that are "very hard, if not impossible, to navigate."
Wind gusts of 75 mph or more were possible for coastal areas of Massachusetts, and up to 50 mph farther inland, forecasters said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency and urged commuters to stay home on Monday, warning that roads could be closed before the evening rush hour, even major highways such as the New York Thruway and the Long Island Expressway.
Similarly, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered a travel ban on his state's highways, while officials in other states asked residents to avoid going anywhere unless it is necessary.
The Washington area was expecting only a couple of inches of snow. But the House postponed votes scheduled for Monday night because lawmakers were having difficulty flying back to the nation's capital after the weekend.
On Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange said it will stay open and operate normally on Monday and Tuesday.
A tractor-trailer jackknifed, and a beer truck crashed into the median on Interstate 81 near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, during the morning commute. No injuries were reported.
Some schools were planning to close early or not open at all Monday in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
The Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots expected to be out of town by the time the storm arrived in Boston. The team planned to leave Logan Airport at 12:30 p.m. Monday for Phoenix, where the temperature will reach the high 60s.
Dave Collins reported from Hartford, Connecticut. Associated Press writers Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Connecticut; David Porter in Lyndhurst, New Jersey; Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, New Jersey; Deepti Hajela in New York; Albert Stumm in Philadelphia; and Marcy Gordon and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.