Gulf restoration bill advanced in House

House lawmakers today advanced legislation that would dedicate 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties from last year’s oil spill to restoring the Gulf of Mexico.

The move follows a Senate committee’s approval last month of a similar bill and is the latest sign that the restoration plan is gaining momentum on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, one of the lead sponsors of the new House bill, said it is a “common-sense measure (that) simply ensures that the areas that were impacted the most by the Deepwater Horizon incident have an opportunity to fully recover from this tragedy.”

The legislation, known as the Restore Act, would create a new Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund and fill it with 80 percent of the civil penalties paid in connection with the 2010 oil spill. The Clean Water Act penalties — which could total anywhere from $5.4 billion to $21 billion under government estimates of the amount of oil that gushed from BP’s failed Macondo well — would be carved up among five areas:

  • 35 percent would be divided equally among the five Gulf states for economic and ecological recovery activities along the coast.
  • 30 percent would be dedicated to the development and implementation of a comprehensive restoration plan. A new Gulf Coast Restoration Council — made up of representatives from all five states — would dictate the scope of that plan.
  • 30 percent would be disbursed by the council to Gulf Coast states, with the allocation dictated in part by spill impact.
  • 5 percent would go to a new long-term science and fisheries endowment and to a Gulf Coast research, science and technology program.

The House bill was introduced today by lawmakers from the region, including Olson, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Alabama.

Olson said the plan is fair to Gulf Coast states, which faced different effects from last year’s spill but nonetheless should be made “whole again.”

“While each Gulf state was affected uniquely, we were all deeply impacted by the spill,” Olson noted.

Although it mirrors a similar Senate bill, the House measure includes some restrictions on how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration can use some of the money it would get under the legislation. For instance, NOAA would be barred from using the money to implement existing or new regulations.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced its version of the legislation in late September, sending it to the full chamber for consideration.

Environmentalists cheered the introduction of the House bill today.

Chris Dorsett, the Gulf restoration and fisheries conservation director of Ocean Conservancy, said the move “is an important step in ensuring that environmental restoration efforts result in a healthy and resilient Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.”

That includes “the people and communities who depend on it,” Dorsett added.