Photo Credit: The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — BP put profits ahead of safety and bears most of the blame for the disastrous 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a U.S. Justice Department attorney charged Monday at the opening of a trial that could result in the oil company and its partners being forced to pay tens of billions of dollars more in damages.

The London-based oil giant acknowledged it made “errors in judgment” before the deadly blowout, but it also cast blame on the owner of the drilling rig and the contractor involved in cementing the well. It denied it was grossly negligent, as the government contended.

The high-stakes civil case went to trial after attempts to reach an 11th-hour settlement failed.

Eleven workers were killed when the Deepwater Horizon rig leased by the BP exploded on April 20, 2010. An estimated 172 millions of gallons of crude gushed into the Gulf over the three months that followed in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Justice Department attorney Mike Underhill said the catastrophe resulted from BP’s “culture of corporate recklessness.”

“The evidence will show that BP put profits before people, profits before safety and profits before the environment,” Underhill said in opening statements.

BP attorney Mike Brock acknowledged that the oil company made mistakes. But he accused rig owner Transocean Ltd. of failing to properly maintain the rig’s blowout preventer, which had a dead battery, and he claimed cement contractor Halliburton used a “bad slurry” that failed to prevent oil and gas from traveling up the well.

BP has already pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other criminal charges and has racked up more than $24 billion in spill-related expenses, including cleanup costs, compensation for businesses and individuals and $4 billion in criminal penalties.

But the federal government, Gulf Coast states and individuals and businesses hope to convince a federal judge that the company and its partners in the ill-fated drilling project are liable for much more in civil damages under the Clean Water Act and other environmental regulations.

One of the biggest questions facing U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is hearing the case without a jury, is whether BP acted with gross negligence.

Under the Clean Water Act, a polluter can be forced to pay a minimum of $1,100 per barrel of spilled oil; The fines nearly quadruple to about $4,300 a barrel for companies found grossly negligent, meaning BP could be on the hook for nearly $18 billion.

The judge plans to hold the trial in at least two phases. The first phase, which could last three months, is designed to determine what caused the blowout and assign percentages of blame to the companies involved. The second phase will determine how much crude spilled into the Gulf.

During opening arguments, BP and its partners pointed the finger at each other in a tangle of accusations and counter-accusations. But BP got the worst of it, from its partners and the plaintiffs in the case.

Three months after announcing intentions to place a Daily Texan news box in front of the Belo Center for New Media, the College of Communication is now saying it hopes to install specially designed and built boxes by January.

College of Communication spokesperson Laura Byerley said the college accepted three bids and will pick a contractor to construct the box next week. Normally Texas Student Media, the entity that owns The Daily Texan, provides boxes to locations free of charge.

“We’re hoping they’ll be installed by the first day of school in the spring semester,” Byerley said. “The news boxes are being designed. There isn’t anything new to report at this time.”

In September, Wanda Cash, the assistant director of the School of Journalism, asked college officials for a Daily Texan news box in front of UT’s newest building. Assistant dean Janice Daman told Cash it was the College of Communication’s policy to not have any news boxes, signage or paper in front of or in the Belo Center for New Media, the building that hosts the journalism school, for environmental concerns. The building is striving for the “silver certification” from U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

An article about this policy appeared in The Daily Texan, and following public outcry from media and former Daily Texan editors, the College of Communication reversed its decision. At the time, College of Communication dean Roderick Hart said it was never the intention of the college to ban the boxes.

Later in October, Hart said he was hoping to get the boxes installed by late November.

“They’ll certainly be operational by the start of spring semester,” Hart said in an October email.

Mark Morrison, former Daily Texan editor and Texas Student Media board member, said the slow response to placing a box in front of the new building has frustrated him.

“The University certainly does not seem to be able to move very quickly on issues such as this,” Morrison said.

He said the College of Communication should have set up temporary Daily Texan distribution areas in the Belo Center for New Media.

“There should be a high priority to get the Texan to communication college students, including journalism students, and if it’s going to take this long to get a permanent spot, why don’t they set up some temporary distribution points?”

Morrison said while the more permanent box is built, the newspapers could go in the building, on a table, in a rack or in a temporary box.

Jalah Goette, the director of the Texas Student Media board, said no one from the College of Communication has contacted her about the news boxes at the Belo Center.

After Friday, The Daily Texan will stop printing until Jan. 14, the first class day of the spring semester.

Printed on Friday, December 6, 2012 as: Belo Center to acquire custom-made newsboxes

Texas Carpenters Union formed a rally in front of UT campus July 20. This organization, and many others, are hiring homeless people as temporary workers in order to protest their needs.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

A group representing an Austin-based carpenters union has been at the West Mall every weekday morning since July 19 protesting against what they say are unfair labor practices by a contractor working at UT.

“We’re just trying to alert the public to an issue not facing just Austin but the country,” said Craig Wright, an organizer for the Texas Carpenters & Millwrights Regional Council.

Carpenters Local Union 1266 member Gerald Boese has been protesting and said he has been working as a carpenter since 1966. A local contractor working on Bellmont Hall was being unfair to taxpayers and employees by not withholding federal taxes intended for Social Security, Boese said. The contractor, 4MC Enterprises Incorporated, did not return requests for comment.

“The University of Texas should look into employers like these contractors to make sure they are treating workers fairly and paying into Social Security,” Boese said.

Many of the people protesting are not members of the carpenters union and are paid $10 an hour to protest, Wright said.

“The carpenters union feels it’s fair to pay people to [protest],” Boese said. “It helps them out. It gives them a job for a couple of hours.”

According to a WFAA-Dallas report from December, the union has a history of hiring homeless individuals to protest.