With the passage of the RESTORE Act in the U.S. Senate, the five Southeastern states are much closer to getting the resources they need to become stronger caretakers of the Gulf of Mexico.
The act, approved by the full Senate on Thursday, would direct 80 percent of the BP oil spill fines under the Clean Water Act to the five states of Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana and Texas. Now it will be the House's turn to give the OK and send the measure to the president for his signature.
The Senate-approved version differs from an earlier House-passed measure, which merely encouraged the fines to be spent in the region. The Senate language locks the formula into law, requiring that, of the 80 percent: 65 percent be spent by state and local task forces, 30 percent by a federal-state task force and 5 percent on Gulf fisheries and ecosystem research.
Indeed, the majority of the fines, estimated at $5.4 billion to $21.1 billion depending on the final settlement, belong in the region that was most harmed by the 2010 spill -- and not in federal coffers, where they would have gone without congressional intervention.
The revenues will benefit the entire nation, which has a stake in the care of the Gulf of Mexico. Directing these resources to the region will help the states overcome serious vulnerabilities that were exposed by the oil spill, including an over-reliance on tourism and a threatened seafood industry.
Bolstered by the investment of the RESTORE Act, the Gulf states could better watch over and guide the national treasure, ensuring its long-term health.
Supporters of the act deserve credit for demonstrating patience and perseverance. In particular, Alabama's senior Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., were ferocious leaders of the effort to convince other lawmakers to support the RESTORE Act.
The senators waited for the right time to attach the measure to a highway bill moving toward approval.
Now we're counting on the Gulf Coast delegation to stand together as the final version of the transportation bill emerges from Congress, thus solidifying the region's full recovery from the oil spill.