We Agree: Use Oil Spill Fines to Restore the Gulf

Dedicating Clean Water Act penalties from the Deepwater Horizon disaster to Gulf Coast restoration is one of the most important short-term steps Congress can take as the one-year anniversary of the catastrophic Macondo blowout approaches. In recent days, two newspaper editorials have tackled the topic.

On January 31, the Scranton [Pennsylvania] Times-Tribune wrote: “It’s a great idea not just because the Gulf Coast suffered the environmental consequences of the disaster, but because it would help to address a host of environmental issues that threatened the region long before the disaster…. And it will benefit all Americans by restoring natural protections against natural disasters, thus mitigating their impact and the need for taxpayers to pay for recovery.”

We wholeheartedly agree.

Two days later on February 2, an editorial in the Lafourche Parish Daily Comet stated: “While nothing can make up for the spill and the ecological devastation — the extent of which is not yet fully understood — the billions in fines will make a welcome dent in the coastal-restoration work Louisiana and other states need.  The bulk of that work, like the bulk of the oil-spill damage, is right here in coastal Louisiana.”

Photo credit: Yuki Kokubo, www.yukikokubo.com

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the bipartisan Gulf Coast Restoration Act – introduced by U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and cosponsored by five Louisiana congressmen – would require that at least 80 percent of the civil and criminal penalties charged to BP and other responsible parties under the Clean Water Act (CWA) be returned to the Gulf Coast for long-term economic and environmental recovery.  Similarly, an oil spill response bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Ma.) would also dedicate 80 percent of CWA fines to Gulf Coast restoration.

This commitment of 80 percent of the CWA fines to Gulf restoration – rather than depositing them into the federal treasury – is a key recommendation made by the bipartisan oil spill commission, as stated in their final report.

The commission’s recommendation echoes a recent government report by Navy Secretary and former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus, which recommended that a “significant amount” of CWA penalties be dedicated to Gulf Coast restoration.  The report details the need for a long-term restoration plan for the Gulf Coast to fulfill President Obama’s “commitment to the Gulf Coast that goes beyond responding to the crisis of the moment [including] multiple economic disasters and decades of environmental degradation that has led to disappearing wetlands and habitats.”

Nearly eight out of 10 voters (78%) in the five Gulf states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas favor creation of a separate fund for the Gulf region and the Mississippi River Delta that includes fines for violating both the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act, according to a recent bipartisan poll.  The poll also showed that nearly nine out of 10 Gulf state voters (87%) agree that the environmental health of the Gulf Coast region affects their state’s economy very much or somewhat.

Dedicating 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties to be assessed for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to Gulf Coast restoration is an important step towards rehabilitating and restoring coastal Louisiana, and we’re very glad to see newspaper editorial boards calling for such a measure, even in states far from the Gulf.