The RESTORE Act, a major legislative initiative for the Alabama Gulf Coast, was signed into law by President Obama on July 6th. This will provide for economic and environmental restoration in the Gulf Coastal states. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby was a leading advocate for the plan that will divide 80% of the Clean Water Act fines levied after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the five most affected states, including Alabama. Senator Shelby and Mary Landrieu, a Senator from Louisiana, worked hard to push this legislation through the Senate. Rep. Jo Bonner, who represents the 1st Congressional District in Alabama, also helped with this badly-needed legislation. Sen. Shelby had this to say:
This agreement demonstrates the conference committee’s commitment to restoring the Gulf Coast, one of our nation’s most valuable economic and ecological assets. Communities affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have waited long enough for relief and should not be subject to the whims of future Congresses.
Members of Congress in other parts of the country had to be convinced that Congress should change the law to allow those Clean Water Act fines to go directly to the five coastal states instead of going to the general U.S. Treasury. Finally, they did the right thing and allowed the legislation to pass and be sent to the President.
Now comes the next challenge and that’s figuring out how to spend that money. Officials in the five states affected — Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — have some time to weigh which projects and programs will best help the Gulf Coast recover from the nation’s worst environmental disaster. The first payments from the fines imposed by the federal government, which could be as high as $20 billion, aren’t expected until at least early next year. If a settlement is reached before the start of the trial, scheduled for February of 2013, the money could arrive sooner.
• Thirty percent of the money will be controlled by the 11-member Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which will develop a comprehensive restoration plan. Members include all five governors (or their designees), the secretaries of the Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security and Interior departments, the secretary of the Army and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
• Sixty-five percent of the money will be controlled by state and local governments for such things as tourism, the environment and the economy. Of that, 35% will be distributed equally among the five states for economic and ecological recovery. The rest will be distributed to the states based on a formula that takes into account factors such as miles of beachfront and population.
• The remaining 5% of the fine money will finance research, with half going to the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission and half going to a “center of excellence” in each state.
The RESTORE Act had broad support from business interests, environmental groups, the seafood industry and tourism organizations in the Gulf Coastal states. Passage of the RESTORE Act in its final form was an absolute necessity and it will provide badly-needed funds to the five states that were so seriously hurt by BP and the other responsible companies.
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