Senate Adopts Measure to Dedicate Penalties In Deepwater Horizon Case to Gulf States

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By Alan Kovski and Ari Natter  

Gulf Coast senators have won full Senate support for a measure that would dedicate 80 percent of any Clean Water Act penalties in the Deepwater Horizon case to Gulf Coast states for ecosystem restoration and the rebuilding of local economies.

The Senate adopted an amendment March 8 to a surface transportation bill (S. 1813) by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) that would earmark penalties from the government's enforcement action in the aftermath of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The vote was 76-22.

Landrieu has led the effort to direct those funds into a Gulf Coast Restoration Fund. The use of those funds then would be largely determined by state officials, under a bill referred to as the Restore Act (S. 1400). The amendment is based on the text of S. 1400.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a version of the bill in September (184 DEN A-8, 9/22/11).

Analysts have estimated that Clean Water Act penalties against BP Plc as operator of the Deepwater Horizon floating rig could amount to several billion dollars.

Landrieu's bill would set up a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. The council would in turn develop a plan to restore and protect the natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches, and coastal wetlands of the Gulf Coast ecosystem.

The bill would provide resources and flexibility to start economic and ecological recovery immediately. It also would provide funds for science and fisheries research.

‘Terrific Outcome of Negotiation.'

The legislation was a “tremendous victory,” Landrieu told Bloomberg BNA.

“It's a terrific outcome of negotiation not just for the Gulf Coast, but for the entire country,” Landrieu said. “I think it's a just allocation for the BP penalty money, that, in large measure, will go back to the Gulf of Mexico and be invested in environmental restoration plans from Texas to Florida.”

The deal to dedicate the funds for Gulf restoration also amended the transportation bill to provide $1.4 billion for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which helps protect land and water in all states. That money was provided through a federal revenue offset unconnected to the Deepwater Horizon case.

“It was a balanced compromise and a fiscally responsible compromise, both for the environment and the businesses that depend on the Gulf Coast,” Landrieu said.

Environmental advocacy groups supported the Restore Act, and the National Audubon Society welcomed its addition to the transportation bill.

“This is a moment for hope and healing,” Audubon President David Yarnold said in a statement March 8. “And it's only fair that most of the money will come from BP's penalties. In this country, if you break it, you buy it, and BP owes this to the Gulf Coast.”