Bill aimed at restoring Gulf goes to full Senate

NEW ORLEANS — A bill that calls for 80 percent of BP penalties to go toward restoring the Gulf of Mexico has moved onto the full U.S. Senate.

On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed the bill, called the Restore Act. Next, it goes to the full Senate for a vote.

Under the bill, a restoration plan would have to be drawn up and a special council set up to oversee restoration. The bill also calls for money to be set aside for long-term studies of the Gulf.

The bill has been pushed by Gulf Coast senators and backed by environmental groups.

The BP spill occurred after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, 2010, off the coast of Louisiana, leading to the largest offshore spill in U.S. history.

Environment and Public Works Committee member U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said the bill’s move to the full Senate was a “huge step” for the Gulf Coast’s recovery from the spill.

Brian McPeek, the chief operating officer of The Nature Conservancy, said passing the bill would help “repair the longstanding environmental damage to the Gulf.” Unless Congress passes the bill, McPeek said the fines from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill could be spent anywhere.

Under the Clean Water Act, the federal government can collect $1,100 for each barrel of oil spilled. However, if the spill was found to be caused by negligence the fines can go up to as much as $4,300 for each barrel spilled. Under these scenarios, BP faces paying fines between $5.4 billion and $21.1 billion.