WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) are encouraging the Obama administration to work toward a Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement agreement that meets both the ecological and economic recovery needs in Gulf Coast states affected by the 2010 disaster.
Cochran and Wicker are among eight senators who have signed a letter to President Obama that registers their “grave concerns” about the possibility that the U.S. Department of Justice may reach a settlement agreement that deviates from the bipartisan provisions of the RESTORE Act.
“A lot of bipartisan effort went into the RESTORE Act, and I fully expect the administration to follow the law. Our primary objectives in this process were to ensure that both the ecological and economic needs of our states be met, with wide discretion granted to states and local governments. These objectives must remain at the forefront as this potential settlement is negotiated,” Cochran said.
In addition to Cochran and Wicker, the letter was signed by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Below is the text of the letter:
Dear President Obama:
Thank you for your support of the RESTORE Act and your efforts to promote the Gulf Coast’s recovery following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We appreciate your commitment to ensuring that the responsible parties are held liable for the damage caused to our coastal communities and habitats. However, we have grave concerns about developments of the settlement terms as reported in the press.
Recent reports suggest that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is leaning toward a global settlement agreement that involves reduced Clean Water Act penalties in exchange for a higher allocation under the Oil Pollution Act for natural resource damage assessments. These are separate penalties assessed under separate statutes, and undermining recovery attained through one by diverting fines to the other simply is not appropriate.
As you will recall, the RESTORE Act passed with broad bipartisan support, clearly illustrating the will of Congress — and the millions of Gulf Coast residents we represent — that the significant Clean Water Act penalties owed should be directed toward the Gulf’s ecological and economic recovery under the local input and control guidelines established by the law. Shortchanging the Clean Water Act penalty figure circumvents the will of Congress and the RESTORE Act and is wholly unacceptable to us. We urge you to reject such an approach.
The Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act have different objectives, and the parties responsible for the spill should be held fully accountable under both. Complete ecological and economic recovery of the Gulf Coast can only occur if just penalty amounts are assessed under every applicable statute. Accordingly, we urge you to negotiate a robust settlement that does not achieve a higher amount under one of these statutes at the expense of the other.