Congressman Jo Bonner, R-Alabama, called on Congress to support legislation dedicating the lion's share of Deepwater Horizon oil spill fine money to the five Gulf Coast states, including Alabama. Bonner testified during a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday morning.
The Committee is currently reviewing the RESTORE Act of 2011 (HR 3096) - legislation introduced on October 5, 2011, and cosponsored by Congressman Bonner - that would direct 80 percent of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill fine monies to the Gulf Coast states for economic and environmental restoration.
Gulf Shores mayor Robert Craft also testified before the committee hearing Wednesday in support of the RESTORE Act.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Remarks of Congressman Jo Bonner
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
December 7, 2011
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee for holding this time-sensitive hearing and special thanks for affording some of us an opportunity to share our experiences and our thoughts with you.
The RESTORE Act, as has already been noted, is vitally important to both the Gulf Coast and to our country, and it is the members who are here today from the five Gulf Coast states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama, on behalf of the millions of American taxpayers who reside in those states and along that Gulf Coast, who very much appreciate the opportunity to share with you some of the reasons why we believe this legislation is the right solution and the right resolution to this tragedy.
On a personal note I am also grateful to the committee for giving one of our local leaders, Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft, who will be on one of the later panels, an opportunity to bring his unique perspective as well.
Mayor Craft is one of the many unsung heroes from this tragedy in that he, and so many other local leaders, helped their communities keep the faith, especially during the darkest days of this, which was the worst man-made disaster in U.S. history, when as we can all recall, it didn't seem that anyone or anything could plug that plume of oil that was spewing up more than a mile deep off the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
While, unlike the chairman, who hails from a state who's total coastline is more than 600 miles of beautiful white sandy beaches, Alabama only has about one-tenth of that amount.
In fact, even today, many Americans are surprised to learn that Alabama has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, all of which are located in my congressional district in southwest Alabama. But whether along the Florida panhandle or in communities like Fort Morgan, Orange Beach, Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island, in Alabama, the beaches along the northern Gulf of Mexico are as unique and as desirable to vacationers as any in the world.
For generations, the beaches of Baldwin and South Mobile counties in Alabama have been vacation central for Alabamians and for people all along the Gulf Coast states.
Unfortunately, on April 20, 2010, the tragic and deadly Deepwater Horizon explosion changed that image in the minds of millions of Americans. As oil began to wash ashore weeks later, fisheries were shut down, hotels and condominiums lay vacant and restaurants that were normally filled with tourists in anticipation of a good tourism season were empty.
To say we struggled to stay afloat during that season would be an understatement.
But to not acknowledge that businesses are still struggling, almost two years removed from this event, would be doing everyone who lives along the Gulf Coast a great disservice.
Thankfully most of the visible oil has been removed from our beaches and tourists returned to the Alabama Gulf Coast this past summer in record numbers. But for all the great progress that has been made, Mr. Chairman, there is still a lot to be done to fully heal the scars and to ensure that future threats to our region will be minimized. Members of the Committee, the five of us are making the case today that there is still every reason to be concerned about future economic and environmental impact from the oil spill. A lot of questions still are not answered.
And make no mistake, each Gulf State was affected in a different way from last year's spill. Some states like Louisiana arguably had more environmental damage, while others, like Alabama, endured significant and adverse economic impact. Our beaches, in particular, lost at least one million tourists during the 2010 season and the absence of these tourist revenues struck just as our area was trying to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression.
While we should all be hopeful about the prospects of putting the nightmare of 2010 behind us, the progress made towards the clean-up is but a hollow victory for thousands of local businesses and individuals which were dealt crippling blows during a tourism season that was a complete loss.
Entire communities are still reeling from business losses while the presidentially-appointed administrator of the BP claims system, Mr. Ken Feinberg, continues to slow-walk approval of legitimate claims payments. While that is not what this hearing is about, I, for one, believe Mr. Feinberg's Gulf Coast Claims Facility has been nothing short of a colossal failure and should be an embarrassment for the Obama Administration that set it up.
That said, bringing the majority of the Clean Water Act fines assessed against, BP, Transocean, Halliburton and others back to the Gulf Coast states is only fitting as our region was uniquely -- and undeniably -- affected by this tragedy. As those of us who live along the Gulf of Mexico already know, our backyard is vital to the economic health of our entire nation. As Mr. Palazzo and others have said it is home to the vast majority of oil and gas production that benefits the entire country as well as 40 percent of the country's seafood production, and it is a major world-class tourist destination that has economic benefits for the entire country.
In fact, if the United States' Gulf Coast states -- our five states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas - were an individual country, they would rank seventh in global GDP with more than $2.5 trillion annually. It is for this reason, Mr. Chairman, among many others, critical that the Gulf Coast states which bear so much risk even today be afforded access to the majority of the Clean Water fines collected to restore the damage that has been done, and to better prepare our region to respond to future crises.
I am personally pleased that the five us and that the other members in a bipartisan way, who live in the five coastal states, have worked to support Mr. Scalise and the legislative initiative that he helped bring to this table today, and I very much appreciate the committee and the members giving this bill your serious consideration as a solution to a tragedy that should never have occurred. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.