By Nikki Buskey
A bill that could send billions of dollars to the Gulf Coast for restoration after the Gulf oil spill passed the U.S. House Wednesday.
The Restore Act, which would dedicate 80 percent of the BP Clean Water Act fines to the Gulf, passed as part of a transportation extension bill with a 293-127 vote.
The Senate passed a version of the transportation bill last month that also included the Restore Act.
Now those bills must head to a conference committee where Senate and House lawmakers will get together to hammer out a final transportation bill and whether it will include the Restore Act language.
"This was a big win," said U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie. "We worked really hard to get our leadership to include the Restore Act in this transportation bill, and to get the votes. It passed with a big margin, and I think that bodes well for the conference committee."
Because the Restore Act has the support of both the House and Senate, Scalise said he's confident the bill will be included in the final version of the transportation bill.
"We're approaching the two-year anniversary, and it is our goal all along to get this BP money dedicated to the states that suffered the most damage," Scalise said.
Under the Clean Water Act, BP can be fined from $1,000 to $4,300 per barrel leaked after the deadly explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. That could add up to fines of between $5 billion and $20 billion.
The first $2.7 billion will go into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is used for cleanup costs. Any additional money will go to the federal treasury unless Congress decides differently.
Lawmakers are now running up against the clock to get the Restore Act passed before the U.S. Department of Justice reaches a settlement with BP. The transportation bill was seen as the best chance to quickly get the Restore Act to the president's desk.
"Growing up in South Louisiana taught me to cherish and fight for our coast, something I have worked tirelessly to do since coming to Congress," said U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La. "I am glad my colleagues joined me today in protecting our coastline and its essential infrastructure for our country's economy."
The Restore Act would:
n Dedicate 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties charged to BP to the restoration of the Gulf Coast.
n Provide resources and flexibility to Gulf Coast states to start economic and ecological recovery immediately.
n Establish a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and a Comprehensive Plan for the Gulf Coast focused on ecosystem and coastal restoration.
n Establish a long-term Science and Fisheries Endowment and Gulf Coast Centers for Excellence.
"Repairing our coast is a national issue that needs to be addressed by Congress," said U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge. "Coastal erosion poses a major threat to the petroleum, shipping and fisheries industries which our country depends on for transportation and energy needs."