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A Year of Coastal Questions

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The future of the Gulf Coast following the BP oil disaster is in the hands of congress, but will there be any help in 2012?

This year, both chambers of Congress successfully drafted near-identical bills that dictate where fines against BP will go. They argue the bulk of the fines, which BP will pay for numerous Clean Water Act violations, should go to the Gulf states. The bipartisan RESTORE Act had Democrats and Republicans from across the Gulf agreeing to direct billions of dollars to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Getting the thumbs up from fellow pols representing impacted communities is one thing, but they've met tough criticism in hearings from skeptical members of congress.

  What's at stake? If the legislation fails, those Clean Water Act fine payments will go straight to the federal treasury, locked in "storage" for future oil disasters, not the ongoing one currently in our backyard. And despite President Barack Obama's National Oil Spill Commission concluding in its report that those fines should be directed to the Gulf, the administration hasn't given any word if it will honor that. The National Audubon Society, Gulf Restoration Network and other environmental groups have asked the House and Senate to schedule a vote — sooner rather than later.

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