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Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News
Email: mrodriguez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mrodriguezwwl

NEW ORLEANS-- Thursday's announcement of a criminal settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and BP brought strong reaction from environmental advocates and those in the oil and gas industry.

Shortly after news broke of the criminal settlement, environmentalists began taking a closer look at where the money would go, and the implications it could have, in a pending civil case between the U.S. Department of Justice and BP.

'The nation's largest oil disaster, in which 11 people lost their lives, does warrant a record-high criminal penalties and I'm glad to see that happen,' Dan Favre of the Gulf Restoration Network.

The New Orleans-based environmental group supports the choice of giving part of the $4.5 billion settlement to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences. The money will be used for coastal restoration, as well as studies pertaining to human health and drilling safety since the spill.

However, Favre cautions the criminal settlement is only another step on the road to restoration.

'This plea does not fully cover environmental damages. There's still outstanding civil liability on the part of BP under the Clean Water Act,' Favre said. 'If anything, this admission of guilt by BP bolsters the Department of Justice's case to pursue maximum fines due to gross negligence.'

Don Briggs heads up the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, a group whose members were deeply affected by what happened after the spill, including the subsequent moratorium and the tightening of drilling regulations.

'We're losing some of the rigs in the shallow water that we used to have, simply because they can't adhere to the new regulations that are on them,' he said.

Briggs added that the criminal settlement should help move the industry and the region past the oil disaster.

'There's been a lot of heartache on this on so many different sides of it and we have to remember the families that were involved in the tragic accident,' Briggs said. 'So, it is time to move on.'

It is not over yet, though. In a statement after the criminal settlement was announced, BP said it would 'vigorously defend itself' against the remaining civil claims. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice said it pursue BP for 'gross negligence,' which could lead to higher fines in their pending civil case.

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