Unfortunately, issues relating to the severity of the Gulf oil spill’s environmental impact have divided public officials along state lines in the coastal states. Even in my state of Alabama it appears there is sharp disagreement over how things really are. There have been honest efforts by the state and others to promote the beaches and seafood industry in Alabama and that’s good. But at the same time, the reality is that the long-range effect of the oil spill and potential health issues is still very much uncertain. The huge amounts of oil spilled and the large volume of chemicals pumped into the Gulf cause me great concern.
In my opinion, it’s critical for independent studying of the effects of both to continue. Some seem to have forgotten that an estimated 206 million gallons of crude spilled into the Gulf last spring and summer. Compared The environmental consequences along the Gulf Coast have already been much more devastating than what was experienced in Alaska as a result of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.
The distinction is significant in light of the $5.4 billion to $21.1 billion in Clean Water Act fines expected to be assessed against BP and other parties responsible for the spill. I predict the fines will approach if not exceed $21 billion. Lawmakers in Washington are working on a bill to send most of the fine money to the affected Gulf states. But they have bogged down on several points. Perhaps chief among those points is how much money should be paid out for environmental as opposed to economic restoration. That’s the big problem. How much each state should receive from the fines is also a big issue that must be resolved. Lawmakers should consider both environmental and economic issues in deciding the question of allocation.
Sen. Richard Shelby has been working on a compromise that would give the affected states flexibility in deciding whether to spend on environmental or economic projects. While it’s very likely that the majority of the fine money will go to the environment, it’s clear that more scientific study is needed. The bottom line is that Congress needs to make all of this a top priority and get a good bill passed very soon.
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