Thursday, July 28, 2011
New bill directs Clean Water Act fines toward Gulf Coast’s economic and environmental restoration
Recovery efforts continue along our Gulf Coast more than a year after the devastating Deepwater Horizon tragedy took 11 lives and sent oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. Making sure the Gulf Coast has the resources it needs is important for these recovery efforts to keep moving forward.
Thanks to a bill introduced last week by all Gulf Coast Senators, we have an opportunity to serve the residents of our coastal communities. If passed, revenue collected from Clean Water Act penalties related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster will be distributed directly to Gulf States.
Changing Current Law
The oil spill’s economic and environmental damage wreaked immeasurable havoc across our region. Seafood and tourism industries were hurt by misperceptions of oil-covered beaches and tainted food. President Obama’s moratorium on deepwater drilling compounded economic losses by immobilizing jobs related to domestic energy production. We must ensure relief goes where it is most needed – restoring our economies and protecting our ecosystems.
Under the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to collect fines for the estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil that were spilled into the Gulf of Mexico last year. The EPA can charge up to $4,300 per barrel from the parties found responsible.
Current law calls for these collected damages to go to the U.S. Treasury, where they are reserved for the cleanup of future oil spills. This would do little to help Gulf Coast residents. Penalty money for this localized disaster should be used for local recovery projects in communities still dealing with the effects of the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Strengthening State Efforts
Under the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act of 2011, communities along the Gulf Coast would have more influence in how the money is used – not the federal government.
The act directs 80 percent of the damages levied against BP and other responsible parties to a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. By keeping these funds close, Mississippi and other Gulf States can have the flexibility to prioritize economic and environmental restoration efforts that serve their needs.
Our coastal communities should not have unnecessary government red tape delaying their recovery goals or worry that funds might be misdirected. The bill has specific safeguards for keeping efforts local. It provides significant support to the seafood industry and prohibits any of this money going toward the promotion of seafood harvested outside the Gulf. The bill creates an ecosystem restoration council and research program dedicated to coastal development, which will help our Gulf Coast stay resilient for years to come.
More Work to Be Done
We must remain committed to the work being done along our Gulf Coast. The RESTORE Act keeps attention on our recovery and on the residents who have continued to persevere despite tough economic challenges.
I am encouraged by the wide support this bill has already received from senators on both sides of the aisle and will continue to work with other members for it to be fully realized.
BP will have to pay for the damage to our state, and keeping that money close to home will allow us to recover faster.
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