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Earthjustice is blogging live from congressional hearings starting today on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. This is the first report.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be the first committee to hold a hearing looking into the causes and cleanups of one of the biggest environmental disasters in the last two decades. Just a few hours later, the witnesses in the ENR committee will walk down the hall to appear before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

It's a chilly spring day here in D.C., but we certainly expect some fireworks to come from these two hearings. Appearing before each committee are representatives from BP, Halliburton and Transocean Limited. I'll be blogging about the hearings as all the excitement occurs, so stay tuned throughout the morning for updates.

The witnesses for each hearing include:

Mr. Lamar McKay, President and Chairman, BP America, Inc.; Mr. Steven Newman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Transocean Limited; Mr. Tim Probert, President, Global Business Lines; Chief Health, Safety and Environmental Officer, Halliburton.

The oil unstoppably pouring out of the Gulf of Mexico's sea floor is now unstoppable as it pushes past efforts to keep it out of wetlands. Over the weekend, thick, tarry blobs rode the tide into wildlife refuge areas of the Mississippi delta. It took 12 days, but the invasion has arrived. <Update: A land/sea/air effort to keep oil out of Louisiana wetlands has been assembled today, The Miami Herald reports.>

<Updates: Oil damage to gulf coast wetlands and wildlife spawning areas could last generations, the Christian Science Monitor reports. "The Gulf appears to be bleeding," exclaims an observer as he flies over the spilled oil. See his 5-minute video report.>

Meanwhile, offshore, British Petroleum still can't find a way to staunch the leak which has put an estimated 3.5 millions of oil into Gulf waters since BP's well rig exploded April 20. After the containment dome attempt failed over the weekend, BP is hoping to plug the gusher with old tires, golf balls and who knows what else. It will be perhaps three months before a relief well is finished.

<Update: AP reports that Interior Sec. Ken Salazar has halted the issuance of new offshore oil drilling leases nationwide until at least the end of the month. Here's how the New York Times sees Salazar's action playing out with reard to Shell Oil's plans to drill this summer in the Arctic.>

The Obama administration has been hinting for days that it might reverse course on its support for offshore oil drilling—and today it took the first real step in that direction. Shaken by the uncontrolled Gulf oil spill, the Interior Department has suspended plans for an oil and gas lease sale off the Virginia coastline.

Greenwire reports:

The move comes as the department seeks answers from investigations into the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the ongoing leak of hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil every day into the Gulf.

All too aware of the oil spill disaster playing out in the Gulf, Native Alaskans are in court today, determined to keep the same thing from happening in Arctic waters they call home.

Timing is critical, as Shell Oil is poised to start drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas as early as July. Represented by Earthjustice, the 13 Native Alaskan and conservation groups are hoping to convince a federal court that the federal government illegally granted Shell a permit to drill.

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