Senate committee approves BP oil spill bill

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — A U.S. Senate committee has approved legislation that would provide Mississippi and other Gulf Coast states with a significant share of federal fines paid by BP for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act of 2011 (S.1400) was today approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on a voice vote. The measure is now available for consideration by the full Senate.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) co-sponsored the measure.

“This legislation was carefully crafted to give Gulf Coast states the resources and flexibility they need to confront the long-term consequences of the oil spill. The Environment and Public Works Committee’s endorsement should help propel the bill to the Senate floor for debate and passage,” Cochran said. “I will work with Chairman Boxer, Sen. Landrieu and Sen. Shelby to encourage the Senate leadership to bring this bill to the floor as soon as possible.”

S.1400 is based on recommendations from Gulf Coast restoration groups. The measure would establish a Gulf Coast Restoration Fund to provide Gulf Coast states — Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Texas — with 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines related to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. The U.S. Treasury Department would receive the remaining 20 percent of the fines assessed against BP and other parties responsible for the April 2010 tragedy.

The Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities and Revived Economy (RESTORE) of the Gulf Coast Act of 2011 outlines a formula by which the Gulf Coast states would receive shares of the 80 percent fine revenue to address immediate and long-term economic and environmental needs on the coast. In addition, funding would support the creation of a long-term science and fisheries endowment and the creation of Gulf Coast Centers of Excellence.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency may assess a $1,100 fine for every barrel of oil spilled. Fines can escalate to $4,300 per barrel if the damages were due to gross negligence from any party found responsible for an oil spill in federal waters. Based on the estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, BP could face fines between $5.4 billion and $21.1 billion. Under current law, this money would go to the U.S. Treasury and the Gulf Coast would get nothing, according to Cochran.

S.1400 was introduced in July by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). In addition to Cochran and Wicker, original cosponsors of S.1400 include Senators David Vitter (R-La.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is an original cosponsor.

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