WASHINGTON — The Senate approved a highway bill Wednesday that includes a long-sought provision for the Gulf Coast: A guarantee that 80 percent of the fines collected from the April 2010 BP oil spill — an amount that could reach $20 billion — would be distributed for coastal restoration to the five states along the Gulf of Mexico: Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Texas and Alabama.
While the bill faces an uncertain outlook in the House of Representatives, Gulf state lawmakers are anxious for Congress to adopt the amendment on the so-called RESTORE Act before a settlement is reached with the Department of Justice and BP.
"I am hopeful that the Senate's overwhelming support for helping Gulf Coast states address long-term environmental and economic damages will be fairly considered by the House of Representatives," said Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. "The nation needs an extended highway bill, and Gulf Coast states need assurance that Congress will allow them to have resources to recover from the oil spill."
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said, "As we approach the two-year anniversary of the Gulf oil spill, I am glad to have helped pass a bill to direct funds to coastal communities that were impacted."
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Under the Senate bill, the five states would divide 35 percent of the money equally, 60 percent would be directed to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and 5 percent would go to a new Gulf science and fisheries program. The House-passed version of the amendment doesn't specify how the money would be distributed. If Congress doesn't act, the fines collected would go to the Treasury.
"I join with our senators in celebrating the fact that a majority on both sides of the Capitol have now committed to bringing most of the Clean Water Act fines back to the states affected by this tragedy," Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., said in a statement.
"These BP fine monies are vital in ensuring the long-term environmental and economic recovery of the Gulf Coast."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY