Pass Gulf restoration act before BP settlement

BRADENTON HERALD EDITORIAL | Congress must act now to safeguard environment

February 7, 2012 

News reports indicate that BP is agreeable to a $20 billion to $25 billion settlement with the U.S. Justice Department on all charges connected to the 2010 massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill. That money rightfully belongs to the five Gulf states that suffered enormous economic losses and ecological damage.

Congress must pass the RESTORE the Gulf Coast States Act in advance of that pending settlement, else all of the money disappear into general federal spending. With legal hearings scheduled to begin in New Orleans on Feb. 27, Congress must act before a settlement is signed. Current law under the Clean Water Act does not require penalties be spent on repairing the impacted region.

The RESTORE Act accomplishes that by establishing the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund with specific spending targets for 80 percent of the BP penalty, including:

n Coastal restoration and flood protection.

n Mitigation of the harm to fish, wildlife and other natural resources.

n Promotion of the tourism and seafood industries.

n Programs for job creation and workforce development.

The act also establishes a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council charged with the focusing on large-scale projects and programs designed to have a great impact on the restoration and protection of coastal ecosystems and natural resources. Appropriately, the council must tackle ventures that are unlikely to attract other funding but still accomplish the primary goals. That way, the money does not simply replace other sources but adds to overall mission.

The toll from the three-month-long spill of some 206 million gallons of crude after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in April 2010 is still begin tabulated. A University of South Florida survey of the Gulf discovered more diseased marine life in the waters near the spill site than elsewhere. Scientists blame exposure to oil and dispersant in findings released last month, though they were cautious to note that the region is home to numerous oil rigs and leaky pipelines that could be the source of the pollution. Still, the report is another troubling indication of the environmental damage due to drilling. The survey also provides evidence of the necessity of the RESTORE Act.

The British petroleum corporation has already paid out billions in claims to businesses and governments across the Gulf coast. Even here in Manatee County, which thankfully did not experience oiled beaches, numerous businesses suffered economic losses due to the spill and the worldwide publicity, especially in the tourism industry. The BP-funded Gulf Coast Claims Facility has paid some 2,000 Manatee businesses almost $27 million. The Manatee County commission should pursue a claim for lost tax revenues, too, as a law firm recommended last month in a letter.

Beyond the RESTORE Act’s benefits to the environment, a report about the legislation’s impact highlighted job creation -- estimating that at least 140 companies in 37 states would receive new business.

While RESTORE enjoys wide, bipartisan support from Gulf coast state members of Congress, others challenge evidence that the oil spill brought environmental havoc and want the billions in fines to flow into the federal treasury. That’s a disservice to the communities, businesses and citizens that suffered greatly from the catastrophe. Huge plumes of oil still exist deep below the surface. The Gulf is a national treasure that must be repaired and protected, both for environmental and economic reasons. Congress should approve RESTORE soon.

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