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Will the Gulf Coast get 80 percent of BP's Clean Water Act penalties?

  A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, led locally by Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican David Vitter, introduced a bill in July to ensure millions of anticipated dollars in fines from the Gulf oil disaster would land in the states that need them most. The RESTORE Act would set up the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, made up of 80 percent of the penalties BP and other parties must pay for violating the Clean Water Act.

  Current Clean Water Act provisions would divert those fines not to impacted states but to the federal government. Under the Act, the Environmental Protection Agency collects $1,100 for every barrel of oil spilled — $4,300 per barrel if gross negligence is found. For its millions of barrels of leaked oil, BP could be on the hook for up to $20 billion.

  In September, the RESTORE Act passed the Senate's Environment and Public Works committee, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. It now awaits action on the Senate floor. Last week, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, introduced a nearly identical version of the RESTORE Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, with only minor tweaks to determine how local governments spend some of those dollars. The bill, like its Senate twin, would divvy that 80 percent among coastal states. At press time, it was unclear when either bill would be debated.

  Also last week: The Obama administration's Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force released the Gulf of Mexico Regional Ecosystem Restoration Strategy, with recommendations made by U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus that resemble the provisions of the RESTORE Act: ensuring Gulf states get a fair share of Clean Water Act fines, and establishing a long-term partnership with federal and state governments for rehabilitating Gulf ecosystems. That report is one of several Obama administration reports to suggest fines be allocated to Gulf Coast states.   

  The National Oil Spill Commission concluded in its report earlier this year that Congress "should direct 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties imposed for the spill to support implementation of a region-wide restoration strategy." — ALEX WOODWARD


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