House OKs directing most BP spill fines to Gulf restoration

The House of Representatives on Thursday amended an energy-transportation bill to include language setting aside 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill for restoration efforts.

Added on as a voice vote to the surface-transportation bill that the House later passed, the amendment would create the 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 could total anywhere from $5.4 billion to $21 billion under government estimates of the amount of oil that gushed from the ill-fated BP Macondo well.

“It’s the first step in a very long process to make sure BP and other responsible parties are held responsible and would start to restore the Gulf Coast from the damage it suffered from the worst oil spill in the history of the world,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.

Under existing federal law, the fines would go into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to help pay for any future spills. The amendment’s addition to the bill comes less than two weeks before the scheduled start of court proceedings in a civil trial over the spill.

The amendment serves as a stripped-down version of legislation from Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., known as the RESTORE Act. His bill not only would create the Gulf trust fund and funnel 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines into it, but also would distribute the money through a formula that the amendment lacks.

The amendment doesn’t include the formula because rules prohibit including that language in a reauthorization bill. Scalise told Fuel Fix that lawmakers were working on the formula part of it.

The RESTORE Act generated considerable debate among Republicans late last fall. Some raised concerns about diverting a huge chunk of Clean Water Act fines away from a fund that may be needed to handle future oil spills, while others have said the money should go toward cutting the federal deficit.