By Richard Shelby
On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed into law the RESTORE Act, bipartisan legislation I co-authored with Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.). The purpose of this law is unambiguous: states and communities affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill -- not federal bureaucrats -- are to control the bulk of the fines assessed against BP and use the money for their economic and ecological recoveries. Even though the president signed the RESTORE Act, the Mobile Press-Register's George Talbot recently reported that the Obama administration has sought to end run the law.
Ongoing negotiations between the Department of Justice and BP will settle BP's liability under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. Simply put, NRDA money is under federal control and spent only on environmental restoration. On the other hand, thanks to the RESTORE Act, 80 percent of CWA money would be under local control and available for ecological and economic recovery purposes. Based on the number of gallons of oil that gushed into the Gulf, total CWA fines are expected to be $5-20 billion. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration has been seeking a combined settlement that funnels these funds through NRDA so that the federal government can dictate how money is spent in the Gulf.
BP has a major incentive to agree to such a settlement: NRDA fines are tax deductible. This should give President Obama pause. In light of the fact that he has bashed tax breaks for Big Oil on the campaign trail, he would have a lot of explaining to do if Big Oil got a huge tax break because his administration siphoned money from oil spill victims.
This is a big deal for Alabama. A settlement allocated as Congress envisioned under the RESTORE Act could potentially mean more than a billion dollars for Alabama's Gulf Coast and would aid recovery in vital industries such as tourism and seafood. However, a settlement skewed toward NRDA would drastically shortchange Mobile and Baldwin counties. Victims deserve better.
The same bipartisan coalition that crafted and passed the RESTORE Act has put the Obama administration on notice that circumventing the will of Congress is unacceptable. On October 5th, Senator Landrieu and I were joined by senators from all five Gulf Coast states in sending a letter to President Obama reiterating that the significant CWA penalties owed should be directed toward the Gulf's ecological and economic recovery under the local input and control guidelines established by the law.
It is also important to note that the State of Alabama has a say in the outcome of this negotiation. We are represented at the negotiating table by Governor Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange. Both men have stated their awareness of the situation and their unequivocal refusal to settle for less than victims deserve. I fully support their efforts to ensure that Alabama is made whole.
The RESTORE Act was considered a legislative long shot when Senator Landrieu and I began writing it. We worked very hard to convince 74 other U.S. Senators that fines assessed against BP should go directly to those actually harmed by the oil spill. We will not relent until President Obama carries out the law that he signed.