The Transportation Conference Committee today announced that it has reached an agreement on a transportation bill. Included in the agreement is legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., to dedicate 80 percent of BP penalties paid under the Clean Water Act to Gulf States to restore coastal ecosystems and rebuild local economies damaged by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The transportation bill -- including the RESTORE Act -- is expected to pass Congress this week and signed into law by the President in the next few days.
"This achievement is the work of a strong, bipartisan, hard-working coalition of Congress members that I was proud to lead with Senator Richard Shelby, and Representatives Steve Scalise and Cedric Richmond in the House. But none of this would have been possible without the tireless and incredible leadership of Senator Barbara Boxer; in committee, on the floor and in conference. It is also due to the work and dedication of many wonderful organizations, including numerous environmental, wildlife and business groups across the Gulf Coast," Sen. Landrieu said.
Unfortunately, to help pay for the bill, the conferees decided to cut $651 million in Louisiana's Medicaid funds.
"It is my understating that the House Republicans proposed these cuts to help pay for the bill. The Senate rejected these cuts at least twice. Despite these objections the House leadership insisted on their inclusion. Why the Republican leadership proposed these cuts, I do not know. But it will create great hardship for our Governor and Legislature in their budget," Sen. Landrieu said. "While this is very unfortunate, it should not diminish the great victory of RESTORE and the billions of dollars it will bring to the Gulf Coast to jumpstart real and lasting restoration."
Sens. Landrieu and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., introduced the RESTORE Act in July 2011. Joining them as original cosponsors of the legislation were Sens. David Vitter, R-La.; Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.; Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. This legislation passed the Senate as part of its transportation bill on March 14.
The bill will do the following:
* Dedicate 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties charged to BP to the restoration of the Gulf Coast.
* Provide needed resources and flexibility to Gulf Coast states to start economic and ecological recovery immediately.
* Establish a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and a Comprehensive Plan for the Gulf Coast focused on ecosystem and coastal restoration.
* Establish a Long-term Science and Fisheries Endowment and Gulf Coast Centers of Excellence.
Last year, the National Oil Spill Commission's report on the BP oil spill recommended that no less than 80 percent of the BP penalty money go to Gulf Coast states for coastal and environmental restoration. And in 2010, the Gulf Coast Restoration Task Force, led by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, issued a report titled "America's Gulf Coast," for Congress to dedicate a significant amount of civil Clean Water Act penalties incurred by those responsible for the spill to the Gulf Coast.
The Clean Water Act allows the Environmental Protection Agency to collect $1,100 per barrel of oil spilled, or $4,300 per barrel if there is a finding of gross negligence, from any party found responsible for an oil spill in federal waters. Based on the estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, BP could face fines between $5.4 billion and $21.1 billion. Under current law, this money would go to the U.S. Treasury and the Gulf Coast would receive nothing.