Rumors are circulating that the federal government may steer money from a BP settlement on oil spill environmental fines away from the Restore Act, a long-fought-for bill which divides the BP Clean Water Act fines among Gulf Coast states to be used for environmental and economic recovery.
Gulf Coast lawmakers and environmental officials are now cautiously weighing these rumors.
News reports from Alabama last week citing unnamed officials briefed by the federal Department of Justice said settlement talks were favoring putting money toward the Natural Resources Damage Assessment, a program that focuses solely on making up for natural resources damage from the spill. Dollars from the Restore Act are direct fines that would be paid back to the coast and could be spend more freely on locally chosen projects.
The reports prompted a bipartisan group of Gulf Coast senators, including U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to raise objections in a letter to the Justice Department and President Barack Obama.
The senators suggested that such a settlement would circumvent the intent of Congress when it passed the Restore Act.
“These are separate penalties assessed under separate statutes, and undermining recovery attained through one by diverting fines to the other simply is not appropriate,” the senators wrote in their letter. “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.”
Posted by Louisiana maritime lawyer Gordon, Elias & Seely, LLP