The RESTORE Act, which Landrieu sponsored and Congress approved last year, dictates that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties paid by BP be divided among Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas. Not only would a large chunk of that money be spread out evenly among the Gulf states, but the legislation also gives them some flexibility in deciding how the money is spent.
"Circumventing the will of Congress by shortchanging the RESTORE Act is wholly unacceptable to us. We urge you to reject such an approach," the senators wrote.
The civil trial set for Monday originally was scheduled for February 2012, but Barbier delayed it to allow BP to wrap up a settlement with a team of private attorneys representing residents and businesses that claimed economic losses from the spill.
The trial's first phase, which could last up to three months, is designed to identify causes of the blowout and assign percentages of blame to the companies involved. The second phase would determine how much oil spilled into the Gulf.
Bondy, the BP attorney, said the company will "vigorously" defend itself against gross-negligence allegations.
"This was a tragic accident, resulting from multiple causes and involving multiple parties," he said.
He also disputed the federal government's estimate of how much oil spilled into the Gulf, claiming it's inflated by at least 20 percent.
The Justice Department and the Plaintiffs Steering Committee, the lead private attorneys in the case, have vowed to prove at trial that BP was grossly negligent and that it engaged in willful misconduct in causing the spill.
"We remain as determined as ever to hold those responsible accountable," Department of Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said in a statement.
A team of scientists working for the government estimated that more than 200 million gallons of oil spewed from BP's blown-out Macondo well from April to July 2010.
BP already has reached a settlement with the Justice Department resolving its criminal liability for the spill. The company has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other charges and agreed to pay $4 billion in criminal penalties.
Rig owner Transocean Ltd. reached a separate settlement with the federal government, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge and agreeing to pay $1.4 in civil and criminal penalties.
Associated Press reporter Phillip Rawls in Montgomery, Ala., contributed to this report.
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