It’s high time for members of Congress to pass legislation that is badly needed for the Gulf Coast states. Although states on the Gulf Coast could receive as much as $20 billion from the fines BP will eventually have to pay, thus far nothing has happened to make sure the states will actually get the money. There have been several bills introduced that propose how the fine money should be divided between the states, but so far not one single bill has passed.
For example, one bill, introduced by a senator from Florida (which has the most shoreline and population) would distribute the funds based on the length of a state’s shoreline and population size. Another bill equally divides most of the funds among the states to be used for environmental projects. Alabama Congressmen, who believe our state suffered far more economic damage from the oil spill than other Gulf Coast states, don’t like either of these bills. Rep. Jo Bonner, who represents the 2nd Congressional District in Alabama, believes bills like those would largely leave Alabama out. He considers Alabama the “economic ground zero” of last year’s spill.
It’s essential that all of the lawmakers support efforts to help the Gulf Coast region recover from the oil spill. Legislation must be passed that will give Gulf Coast states most of the money BP will pay in fines. Thus far, lawmakers have introduced at least five bills, including the two mentioned above, that attempt to decide how and where the money should go. If an agreement can’t be reached, there is concern that the money could end up going into a trust fund for future oil spills and to the U.S. Treasury. I agree with Casi Callaway, Executive Director of Mobile Baykeeper, an Alabama-based environmental group, who believes Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas must work together so that the Gulf states can get the badly-needed money.
Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, co-chairman of the recently formed Gulf Coast Caucus, reintroduced a bill earlier this year that would set aside 80 percent of the fine money to restore the Gulf Coast. Much of that would go to restoring and protecting ecosystems. Rep. Bonner has a bill that would send 80 percent of the fine money to the Gulf, but would steer much of that to coastal communities to help restore tourism and other industries. His bill has 13 cosponsors, including all members of Alabama’s delegation.
Without a consolidated and cooperative regional approach, Gulf Coast lawmakers will have a difficult time convincing their colleagues from other regions to divert desperately-needed funds from the U.S. Treasury to the specific needs of the coastal states. Obviously, there are many needs that will require substantial funds. Areas of the country that were hit by the series of devastating tornadoes and floods have needs that must also be met. In addition to the economic and environmental needs along the coast, there will be huge health problems caused by the oil spill. BP’s public relations efforts — unlike its terrible safety record — have been very good and highly effective. The further you get from the Gulf, I find that folks believe BP has solved all of the Gulf’s problems. Those beliefs aren’t helping to get members of Congress from other states to help the Gulf Coast.
It’s time for all members of Congress from the Gulf Coast states to put aside their differences and, to the extent possible, join together and get the ball rolling. Unless that happens we can’t expect much to happen in Washington that will help the coastal states recover from the effects of the oil spill.
Source: Montgomery Advertiser
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