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Wicker: RESTORE Act Is a Big Win for Mississippi

Majority of BP Fines Will Be Directed to Recovery Efforts in Gulf Coast States

Monday, July 16, 2012

Last month, Congress passed an important piece of legislation for recovery that should bring hundreds of millions of dollars to Mississippi’s coastal communities.  I was proud to work with my colleagues across the Gulf Coast to ensure the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies (RESTORE) Act became law. 

The RESTORE Act invests Clean Water Act fines from BP and others responsible for the 2010 oil spill into efforts to renew the Gulf Coast region.  Under the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency assesses a penalty for each barrel of oil that was spilled.  

Enactment of the RESTORE Act also affirms that revitalizing the Gulf Coast will be done more effectively and efficiently at the local level – without unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles from Washington.  It demonstrates that empowering those on the front lines can bring about significant change and that federal action does not have to mean interference.

How RESTORE Helps Mississippi

The RESTORE Act gives Gulf Coast states the authority and flexibility to use Clean Water Act fines for the most critical projects in their coastal areas.  This is a condition I strongly supported, and one that recognizes the complexity of the oil spill’s effect across the Gulf region.  The severity of the economic and environmental costs from the Deepwater Horizon disaster cannot be addressed with a big-government approach.  Local involvement is essential to putting the right solutions in place without delay.   

Under the RESTORE Act, Mississippi will get its fair share of funding and have control over how it is used.  The law allocates more than a third of the recovery funds equally and directly among the five Gulf Coast states.  Each state would then be able to utilize the money for economic and environmental priorities as it sees fit.   

Each state also will have representatives on a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which will oversee the restoration of the entire region and allocate funds to areas based on impact.  To ensure long-term success, the RESTORE Act devotes a percentage of funding for future research and monitoring, including grants for the establishment of Gulf Coast Centers of Excellence. 

Redirecting Penalty Money

The RESTORE Act is an important change to current law, which would have put the financial penalties levied against BP and other parties into the federal treasury.  Instead, 80 percent of fines will go toward recovery efforts directed by Gulf Coast states.  Estimates indicate BP could owe between $5 billion and $21 billion for its violations of the Clean Water Act alone. 

Like neighboring states, Mississippi sustained substantial economic and environmental damages from the millions of barrels of oil that spilled into the Gulf before the deep-water well was capped.  Just as harmful were false perceptions of oil-covered beaches and tainted seafood, which devastated our tourism and fishing industries.  The full extent of the environmental harm may not be known for years.

Locally-Driven Progress

The success of the RESTORE Act begins a new chapter in the renewal of our treasured coastline and local communities, where recovery is still urgently needed more than two years after the worst offshore oil spill in American history.  Its impact reverberated across our state, and for many families and businesses, the effects still linger. 

July 2012 Weekly Columns