Gulf Coast officials and a local oysterman were among those making a pitch last week to a congressional committee for directing 80 percent of the billions of dollars in BP fines to the five most heavily affected Gulf Coast states, including Louisiana.
A bill to steer to Gulf States the lion's share of the fines assessed to BP under the Clean Water Act presently is under review by the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The bill before the committee is the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2011, or the RESTORE Act.
Last week's hearing was the latest round of debate on the RESTORE bill and its Senate twin, which passed the Senate's Environment and Public Works committee, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in September. The two bills also would create a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund.
Despite its Gulf-wide bipartisan support, at last week's hearing the RESTORE bill met criticism from Craig Bennett, director the of U.S. Coast Guard's National Pollution Funds Center, and U.S. Rep. Robert Gibbs, R-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Florida (the committee chairman). The bill, they said, is redundant because BP already will be responsible for fines under other pollution-related legislation, specifically the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) and Oil Pollution Act. Garret Graves, chairman of Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, says there is no overlap, and that "penalty-funded restoration should be encouraged and provided for in addition to, not instead of, NRDA restoration."
The National Oil Spill Commission concluded in its report earlier this year that Congress "should direct 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties imposed for the spill to support implementation of a region-wide restoration strategy." So far, President Barack Obama's administration hasn't put a number on its financial commitment to the Gulf. — Alex Woodward