By Representative Steven Palazzo
Two years ago this week, the largest manmade disaster in our nation's history occurred just off our Gulf Coast shores. On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico took the lives of 11 workers, including four Mississippians, and injured 17 others.
The entire nation watched in shock over the next three months, as the estimated 5 million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf's waters and attempt after failed attempt was made to cap the well.
Almost 90,000 square miles of federal fishing waters were closed and countless miles of beaches, bayous and bays were affected.
The images of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, wildlife coated in crude, and tarballs washing up on beaches have vanished from the national media spotlight, but the spill's effects are forever etched into the lives of Gulf Coast residents and businesses.
Millions of dollars have been spent on cleanup efforts in our waters and along our shorelines. The Gulf Coast Claims Facility and other settlement agreements have attempted to provide short-term relief.
Under the Oil Pollution Act and the Clean Water Act, large fines and penalties will certainly be levied against the responsible parties. Yet, some of the most important steps to recovery that remain are addressed in a piece of legislation known as the RESTORE Act.
The common-sense solutions presented in the RESTORE Act have gained broad public support and much traction in Congress. Advocates include everyone from environmental groups like the Sierra Club to the business-minded U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Language from the RESTORE Act was first approved as part of a House energy package, then as part of the Senate's transportation bill, and is being considered again in the House this week.
This bipartisan legislation would bring Gulf Coast environmental and economic restoration full circle by placing both funds and decision-making power back in the hands of the five Gulf Coast states.
The bill being considered by Congress would send 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines to the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, accessible only to those states affected by the spill. Further, it provides that key decisions in the recovery process would be made on the home front through the Gulf Coast Recovery Council. Local leaders and constituents are the best equipped at making restoration decisions. The RESTORE Act would give them the authority and flexibility to do so.
A healthy and whole Gulf Coast benefits all Americans. Consider this:
* One-third of the nation's seafood is harvested in the Gulf.
* The Gulf is home to a majority of our country's largest ports.
* Ninety percent of America's offshore crude oil and natural gas production comes from the Gulf of Mexico.
* The Gulf Coast and its natural resources are important to the U.S. economy, producing 30 percent of the nation's gross domestic product in 2009.
While we may never truly know the full long-term effects of the spill, the environmental, economic and social impacts on the Gulf are sure to persist for years to come.
On Friday's two-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, we should take time to reflect upon the past and ponder the best way to move forward.
South Mississippi -- and all Gulf Coast states -- have reason to hope. The legislation that would take the remaining, necessary steps to address long-term recovery in the Gulf Coast is steadily making its way to the president's desk.