WASHINGTON — On the cusp of the second anniversary of the BP oil spill, the House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a transportation bill that includes a provision setting aside 80 percent of the BP fines for the five Gulf states _ Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Texas _ for restoration and recovery of the areas affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The move, said supporters, will lead to a conference committee with the Senate that will lock in how the money _ an estimated $20 billion in Clean Water Act fines _ is distributed by the states. The vote on the transportation package was 293-127.
The House already had approved the same provision setting aside 80 percent of the fines earlier this year as part of another bill which did not move in the Senate, prompting House leadership to include it as part of the transportation bill. The Senate has passed the so-called Restore Act, which sets aside 80 percent of the fines in a trust fund and allocates the funding. If the provision does not become law, the money reverts to the U.S. treasury.
“It’s only fair that the lion’s share of BP Clean Water Act fines are dedicated to the Gulf Coast states still dealing with the impacts of the disaster for the purposes of ecosystem and economic recovery,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.
“This legislation is what the Gulf Coast needs to bring environmental and economic restoration full circle,” said Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Biloxi.
Environmental groups also presented a united front in support of the legislation.
“The time has come to make good on promises to restore the environments of the Gulf region and the communities and economies that rely on them,” said a joint statement issued by Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Ocean Conservancy and Oxfam America. “Now we look forward to getting the Restore Act across the finish line, and the president signing Restore into law.”
The provision would establish the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund and dedicate 80 percent of the BP Clean Water Act fines to that trust fund for Gulf restoration.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said, “Both parties can agree that the revitalization of our Gulf States is a priority and that local leaders are instrumental to recovery efforts. The accident that occurred two years ago was an extraordinary tragedy with long-term consequences, and we cannot forget about the needs that persist.”