A majority of Gulf Coast lawmakers have come to an agreement on distributing the oil spill fines and that is great news for their states. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Al., and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., announced the plan at a news conference on July 21st. Legislation will be introduced that calls for dedicating at least 80 percent of BP penalties paid under the Clean Water Act to the Gulf Coast states to invest in the long-term health of the coastal ecosystem and its economies. It was time for this agreement to be reached on distributing Clean Water Act fines resulting from the Gulf oil spill which could total as much as $21.1 billion.
The efforts to reach an accord had been hampered by disagreements over how much each state should get and how much of it should be dedicated to environmental as opposed to economic recovery efforts. Hopefully, the legislation will pass promptly and be signed into law. Nine of the ten U.S. Senators representing Gulf Coast states agreed on the plan. The proposal would distribute at least some fine revenue to all five of the Gulf states, with those most impacted by oil, environmentally and economically, getting the most money. Some of the funds would be restricted for environmental use only, but most of the money could also be used for economic recovery projects.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, helped broker the agreement. She acknowledged that, at one point, negotiations looked likely to fail altogether. Sen. Boxer is due a great deal of credit for bringing about the agreement. The compromise agreement would send four-fifths of Clean Water Act fines from the Gulf oil spill to Gulf Coast states. The Gulf state money would be allocated as follows:
• 35 percent would be divided equally among the five states. States could use this money for environmental or economic recovery projects.
• 30 percent would be divided among the states according to a complicated formula calculating the severity of the oil spill’s impact on each state. These funds could also be spent on environmental or economic recovery projects. Louisiana would get about 10.5%, Alabama would get about 6%, Florida and Mississippi would get slightly less than 6% and Texas would get about 2%.
• 30 percent would be allocated by the newly-formed Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which would include representatives from each state and the federal government. The money would be limited to environmental projects, which would be chosen by the Council without strict guidelines regarding how much goes to each state.
• 5 percent would be used to fund Gulf science and fisheries programs. Each state would receive some funding, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would have leeway in determining how much money goes where.
In a written statement, Sen. Shelby described the compromise bill as “good news for Alabama’s environmental and economic recovery from the oil spill.” He is absolutely correct. The Senator added in his statement: “This legislation allows for great flexibility in the allocation of recovery funds to ensure that the penalties our state is owed are distributed in the best interest of Alabama’s coastal communities.” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., predicted that the bill would bring speedy recovery to the Gulf Coast, adding that: “It represents a balanced approach by all Gulf State Senators to support economic and environmental restoration.” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was the only Gulf Coast Senator not signed on to the bill as a cosponsor.
The federal Clean Water Act mandates that companies responsible for disasters such as last summer’s Gulf oil spill must pay penalties based on the amount of oil spilled. But the law, as currently written, would send the revenue to a fund for the cleanup of future oil spills and to federal coffers for general use. While this agreement is a needed first step, the bill must still get approval from the full Senate, as well as from the full House. It should be noted that Gulf Coast lawmakers in the House have been unable to reach a similar agreement. Hopefully, that will have been changed by the time this issue is mailed. I believe that President Obama must put his full support behind the Senate bill for it to pass both Houses. I understand he will sign the bill when it comes to him.
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