By Jordan Blum
The U.S. House could pass its 90-day transportation extension bill Wednesday.
The legislation now includes the RESTORE Act that directs BP fine money to Louisiana and the other affected Gulf Coast states.
The U.S. House Rules Committee easily approved the bill Tuesday, which Louisiana delegation members say sets the stage for an eventual conference committee to secure the RESTORE Act because the Senate has already passed its transportation bill with the act included.
"We've been able to breathe new life into it," U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, said of the RESTORE Act. "There's real strong support on both sides."
The RESTORE Act provisions guarantee that 80 percent of the fines collected from the April 2010 BP oil leak -- an amount that could reach $20 billion -- would be distributed for coastal restoration to the five states along the Gulf of Mexico: Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Texas and Alabama.
Gulf state lawmakers have wanted Congress to adopt the RESTORE Act before a settlement is reached with the Department of Justice and BP.
Two weeks ago, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., was expressing dismay and frustration that the Republican-led House was refusing to take up the Senate transportation bill and would only pass an extension that she and other Senate Democrats argued would cost the country 100,000 jobs related to the transportation and construction industries.
Now, Landrieu is expressing satisfaction that the House has at least added the RESTORE Act into its extension bill.
"I just thought that was terrific because it gives us another bite at the apple," Landrieu said Tuesday, noting that the two chambers likely will have to work out the details in a conference committee.
"There is a great opportunity -- no guarantee -- we can come out with a good transportation bill," Landrieu said. "We're going to pass the RESTORE Act one way or the other."
A potential sticking point though is that the House transportation extension bill also contains key language mandating federal approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline that would run from Canada to Texas.
"That's going to be a fight between the House and the Senate," Scalise said of the pipeline.
"But we don't think the RESTORE Act is going to be a part of that fight."
RESTORE should survive regardless, he said.
U.S. Reps. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, and John Fleming, R-Shreveport, were the only members of the Louisiana House delegation to push for passage of the U.S. Senate bill, which some House members have argued is too expensive.
Richmond said he likely will reluctantly vote for the House transportation extension because the RESTORE Act is so important.
"It'd be a hold-your-nose-and-vote-for-it deal," Richmond said.