Senate bill to divert 80 percent of BP funds to Gulf Coast restoration up for vote

By Alejandro de los Rios | Aug 5, 2011



Legislation that would divert the majority of federal fines levied against BP for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill to Gulf Coast restoration is up for a vote in the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2011, known as the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act, would establish a trust fund "equal to 80 percent of all administrative, civil, and criminal penalties paid by a responsible party in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill."

The bipartisan bill has been spearheaded by Louisiana Senators Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R) and seeks to divvy up fines for different Gulf Coast restoration projects.

According to the proposed legislation, 35 percent of the funds would be allocated in equal share to the five Gulf States affected by the spill; 60 percent towards the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council; and 5 percent would go to Gulf Coast research.

Bill S1400 has received support from nine of the 10 Gulf Coast Senators, made up of two Democrats and seven Republicans. Only John Cornyn (R, Texas) has not signed as sponsor.

The bill has received support from six environmental groups that released a joint statement showing their agreement with the bill.

The bill would take fines collected form BP under the Clean Water Act. The senators said the oil company faces fines from $5.4 billion to $21.1 billion.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) echoed Vitter and Landrieu back in March, saying she would move to steer BP fines to Gulf Coast States.

Vitter and Landrieu said they would seek an end to President Barack Obama's moratorium on issuing drilling permits in the Gulf at the hearing. There is no mention of lifting the moratorium in legislation they filed.

President Obama has already endorsed legislation seeking to give Gulf States 80 percent of the fines levied against BP. Louisiana officials are adamant that, of the Gulf States, Louisiana endured the most hardship and should received the bulk of the earmarked funds.

Recently, Louisiana's congressional delegation criticized BP for allegedly going back on a promise to pay the state $12 million to restore oyster beds that were damaged or killed entirely from fresh water from the Mississippi River into marshlands.

Governor Bobby Jindal recently stated that Louisiana will divert funds from existing departments to pay for the oyster beds and send BP an invoice later.

Also speaking at the hearing were Democrat Bob Graham and Republican William Reilly, the co-chairs of the White House Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

Graham and Reilly issued a series of recommendations for improving off-shore drilling safety, stating that BP's inadequate response to the oil spill was a sign of "systemic" flaws in the oil industry.

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