In the News
Mar 24 2012
Tallahassee Democrat Opinion Article
Nearly two years ago, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, sparking an environmental disaster that touched every Gulf state.
BP is expected to pay between $5 billion and $21 billion in fines under the Clean Water Act. But as can be expected any time that much money is involved, there has been plenty of discussion over who should benefit.
The logical answer is that the five states affected most by the spill — Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida — should get the lion's share of the money, and that's what would happen under the Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act — better known as the RESTORE Act.
On March 14, the U.S. Senate passed the act — inserting it into a larger transportation bill — with a bipartisan vote of 74-22. It should be a slam-dunk in the House, too, but with politics being what they are these days, you never know.
Consider this: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio voted no on the bill, the only senator from the five Gulf states to do so. His stated reason was that, with only about 80 percent of the money now going to the five states and other legislative compromises, it is "no longer a Gulf Coast restoration bill."
With billions of dollars in the pot, that is ludicrous. More likely, some observers say, is that Sen. Rubio had a Grover Norquist moment, since revenue offsets in the RESTORE Act may violate the Taxpayer Protection Pledge he and others have signed. So, on some principle, he was willing to hand the billions in fines straight to the U.S. Treasury and leave the Gulf states hanging.
U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, a Republican who represents the Tallahassee area and certainly doesn't lack for conservative credentials, understands the need. He was an original sponsor of the RESTORE Act in the House, and he still is pushing for its passage.
Wednesday, he met with the House leadership to discuss the RESTORE Act. It might be made part of a short-term transportation bill being considered next week, though that is unlikely. It could be part of a larger transportation bill, as it was in the Senate, or it could be a stand-alone bill. It's a "work in progress," as Rep. Southerland's office put it this week, but he and the leadership remain committed to passing it and sending it to President Obama for his signature.
The RESTORE Act would split the money several ways, with some going to the five states for their own projects to restore natural resources, some going to a federal/state council to create a comprehensive plan to restore natural resources, some going to the states based on how hard they were hit by the spill (with oversight by the federal/state council) and a small amount being invested in an endowment to support science, monitoring and fisheries management.
In the House bill, Rep. Southerland also is seeking more flexibility for Florida to put the money toward economic recovery.
Two years ago, the Gulf of Mexico took a big hit. Fisheries were affected, tourism suffered, and the region's entire economy felt the impact. The RESTORE Act is a chance to help make it right again. It deserves passage. Save the politics for later.