The recommendation is for Congress to dedicate 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties to be assessed for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to Gulf Coast restoration.
The groups – Environmental Defense Fund, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Ocean Conservancy, Oxfam America, and The Nature Conservancy– also lauded GOP Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise for introducing bipartisan legislation earlier this month to require at least 80 percent of the civil and criminal penalties charged to BP under the Clean Water Act be returned to the Gulf Coast for long-term economic and environmental recovery. That bill, the Gulf Restoration Act (H.R. 56), is cosponsored by four Louisiana GOP Congressmen – Reps. Rodney Alexander, Charles Boustany, Bill Cassidy and Jeffrey Landry – and one Louisiana Democratic Congressman, Rep. Cedric Richmond.
“We thank the Louisiana delegation and House Democrats for their leadership on an issue that is vital to restoring both the Gulf ecosystem and the Gulf economy, which depends upon that ecosystem’s health,” said a joint statement by the eight groups. “We look forward to working with House and Senate leaders of both parties on securing legislation to send the oil spill penalties back to the Gulf region where they belong.”
The fines for violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) alone will range from a maximum of between $1,100 and $4,300 for each of the 4.9 million barrels spilled, depending upon whether the responsible parties are found to have been grossly negligent for the Macondo Well blowout. Current estimates of the CWA fines range from a maximum of between $5 billion and $21 billion.
“Without Congressional action, the fines for violating the Oil Spill Pollution Act and Clean Water Act for the Gulf oil disaster automatically will be deposited in the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund and Federal Treasury, respectively, creating an unacceptable windfall for the federal government,” the groups added. “We urge Congress to fulfill President Obama’s promise to make the Gulf ecosystem better than it was before the disaster by heeding a key recommendation from the bipartisan oil spill commission to dedicate 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties to long-term restoration of the Gulf.”
The oil spill commission’s recommendation echoed a recent government report by Navy Secretary and former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus. The Mabus report detailed the need for a long-term environmental restoration plan for the Gulf Coast to fulfill President Obama’s “commitment to the Gulf Coast that goes beyond responding to the crisis of the moment [including] multiple economic disasters and decades of environmental degradation that has led to disappearing wetlands and habitats.”
The Mabus report recommended that the President urge Congress to “allow a significant amount of any civil penalties recovered under the Clean Water Act from the Deepwater Horizon spill to be deposited into a Gulf Coast Recovery Fund managed by a Gulf Coast Recovery Council.”
Nearly eight out of 10 voters (78%) in the five Gulf states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas favor creation of a separate fund for the Gulf region and the Mississippi River Delta that includes fines for violating both the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act, according to a recent bipartisan poll. The poll also showed that nearly nine out of 10 Gulf state voters (87%) agree that the environmental health of the Gulf Coast region affects their state's economy very much or somewhat.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
I Ling Matthews
Director, MRC-North America