WASHINGTON — The House is expected to vote later today on an amendment pushed by Gulf State lawmakers to dedicate 80 percent of the fines collected from the BP oil spill to a trust fund for coastal restoration of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas.
The Restore Act has been a top priority of Gulf State lawmakers, especially as the BP trial is due to start at the end of the month, and House Gulf members were able to inject the issue into the debate over energy and the surface transportation bill. Reps. Steve Palazzo, R-Miss., Steve Scalise, R-La., and Pete Olson, R-Texas, persuaded GOP leadership to agree to it.
Wednesday, Palazzo said, "I've received a lot of good news today: The House is slated to consider our amendment on Thursday morning, and the Chamber of Commerce has come out in support of this effort.
"This amendment is a huge first step, and it will be the first time either house of Congress votes on bringing oil spill fines back to the Gulf Coast states."
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Scalise said, "This is a really important milestone. We feel like we’ve got a real opportunity to get this passed and get this fund in place."
The amendment would set up the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund for the five Gulf Coast states, and would set aside 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines — an amount that could reach $20 billion.
On April 20, 2010, the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers and spewing 4.9 million barrels of crude oil over 87 days.
A federal case with hundreds of consolidated lawsuits is scheduled to begin Feb. 27 before a judge in New Orleans. But Palazzo and other lawmakers anticipate a BP settlement with the U.S. government and want to get the amendment in place as soon as possible to ensure funds are aimed at the Gulf Coast.
The amendment is a smaller version of the Restore Act, which Gulf lawmakers have been advocating for months. The amendment expected to be voted on today does not include the formulas distributing the funds, which Scalise said would be done later or possibly in the Senate.
The EPA fines are separate from a $20 billion fund BP set up to compensate victims.
"This is a large part of what we’ve been working for over the past year, and we won’t stop until those fine dollars have been brought home to the Gulf Coast states," said Palazzo.
Editors' note: An earlier version of this story reported incorrectly that the Restore Act amendment had passed late Wednesday. In fact, a related amendment was approved that would increase the amount of offshore drilling revenue to Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama for coastal restoration.
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