What does the 90-day transportation bill extension mean for the RESTORE Act?

By Whit Remer, Environmental Defense Fund

With a March 31 deadline quickly approaching, last Thursday (March 29), the U.S. House and Senate passed a 90-day extension to the surface transportation bill. This extension means we will need to continue working hard to ensure the RESTORE Act stays alive and is included in the final version of the bill.

Oiled vegetation in Pass a Loutre, La. May 22, 2010. Credit: NOAA.

The RESTORE Act is legislation that would dedicate 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the gulf oil spill toward gulf environmental and economic restoration. Earlier this month, we reported a big win for the RESTORE Act after the Senate approved it as an amendment to their version of a new two-year highway bill. This was an impressive bipartisan win, with 76 senators voting yes on the amendment.

Last week’s extension signals that the House did not agree to the terms proposed in the two-year Senate bill. The extension gives the two chambers an extra three months to craft a bill that both the House and Senate can agree on. While nothing is certain during the next three months, it is important to remember all the wins the RESTORE Act has had thus far — wins that both sides will have difficulty forgetting while moving forward on a final version of the transportation bill.

In February, House Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) introduced and passed an amendment dedicating 80 percent of expected Clean Water Act penalties from the spill towards gulf restoration. In the Senate, the RESTORE Act passed out of the Environment and Public Works Committee in September, and just weeks ago, the Senate overwhelmingly approved it as an amendment. When Congress begins to put together a long-term transportation bill, they must not forget these important wins.

The RESTORE Act is still alive and well, especially in the minds of Congress and those in the gulf who need it most. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need to encourage Congress to continue fighting for oil spill restoration in the gulf. Without action on the RESTORE Act in the new transportation bill, the Gulf Coast may lose out on desperately needed restoration funding. We must continue to energize the Gulf Coast delegation and let them know how much the RESTORE Act means to the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast.