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Miller Newsletter - April 22, 2012


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Only two years ago, on the night of April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing eleven and forever changing the lives of those along the Gulf Coast. Just two years ago, but for many, it seems like a lifetime. And for some outside the region, it is something they are beginning to forget.

Those of us in Northwest Florida who stood on the beaches as oil and tar balls washed on shore haven't forgotten. Those in our neighboring Gulf Coast states who worked to erect booms protecting marshes and wetlands haven't forgotten. The businesses whose hotels and restaurants sat empty for an entire summer haven't forgotten. The people of Northwest Florida have not forgotten because the Deepwater Horizon tragedy has and will continue to affect our lives for many years to come.

The parties responsible for the spill made a commitment to restore the Gulf Coast, but results have been mixed. Despite paying more than $6 billion in claims, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility has left thousands waiting for their claims to be finalized, and countless claims were rejected, many of them unfairly. Now, as BP reaches a settlement with the Plaintiff's Steering Committee, the claims facility will be restructured, resulting in transition and delay. While I'm glad a settlement was reached on these private damages, I hope the court and BP will work to ensure the transition is quick and people are treated fairly.

Further, now that a settlement on claims has been reached, the biggest lingering issue for the region is how the responsible parties will restore what was lost both environmentally and economically. The U.S. Justice Department is continuing to move forward with assessing fines and penalties against the responsible parties, which could range between $5 billion and $21 billion based on the amount of oil ultimately spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, under current federal law, the fines paid would not be returned to the area affected, but handed over the federal government to pay for future spills. In fact, the government could potentially use the fine money for anything.

Instead of allowing the money to go to the U.S. Treasury Department, my Gulf Coast colleagues and I introduced a bill to ensure that the vast majority of the money is returned to the Gulf Coast -- the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2011, also known as the RESTORE Act. The RESTORE Act would take 80 percent of the fines paid by the responsible parties and invest that money back into our region. These funds would be used by state and local governments to restore their economy, environment, and ecosystems while the remaining 20 percent would be transferred to a trust fund to help pay for future oil spills. In Florida specifically, the Florida legislature passed a law that mandates that 75 percent of money received would go directly to the eight affected counties in Northwest Florida.

The RESTORE Act is vitally necessary for the Gulf Coast, and we have worked toward its passage in the House and Senate over the past year. Although it has not yet been signed into law, both the House and Senate have passed versions of the bill as part of each chamber's Transportation Reauthorization legislation. Just this last week in the House, we were successful in attaching part of the RESTORE Act -- the part that preserves the funding for the Gulf Coast -- to a 90-day extension of the transportation bill. This step is extremely important because this transportation bill is intended to be the legislative vehicle used in conference negotiations with the Senate on a longer-term reauthorization. With the RESTORE Act included, we are one step closer in making sure the Deepwater Horizon fine money is returned to the states affected by the spill.

Passing the RESTORE Act as part of the House transportation bill was an important step, but it does not guarantee it will be included in the final bill. If you support the RESTORE Act, make your voice heard. Whether RESTORE is included in the final Transportation bill or as stand-alone legislation, all of us along the Gulf Coast must work together to ensure that our region is made whole by the responsible parties.

As the two-year anniversary of Deepwater Horizon passed last week, we must never forget how it affected all of us -- the loved ones lost, the livelihoods ruined, and the ecosystems destroyed. But we also must never forget the way we came together as a community, the way we worked together as a community, and the way we responded to the oil spill disaster as a community. I am proud of all those in Northwest Florida who have chipped in to get our area back on its feet. Keep up the great work.

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