The U.S. Senate should heed the recommendation by the staff of the bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling that “Congress should direct 80 percent of civil and criminal Clean Water Act penalties” to Gulf Coast restoration, according to eight non-profit groups. While the full commission report is expected in January, the groups urged the Senate to act on this staff recommendation before the lame duck congressional session ends later this month.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed oil response legislation (H.R. 3534) that would create a new civil penalty for any oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, including the Gulf oil disaster. However, the Senate has yet to act on this provision or on dedicating penalties from existing Clean Water Act provisions. U.S. Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and David Vitter (R-La.) and U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) have introduced legislation that would require at least 80 percent of the civil and criminal penalties charged to BP under the Clean Water Act should be returned to the Gulf Coast for long-term economic and environmental recovery.
“The oil spill commission staff recognizes that we cannot compound one tragedy with another,” said a joint statement by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Environmental Defense Fund, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Ocean Conservancy, Oxfam America, and The Nature Conservancy. “Absent Senate action, Clean Water Act fines automatically will be deposited into the federal treasury. The Senate should use this money to create thousands of new jobs by restoring the backbone of the Gulf Coast’s fishing and tourism industries—its ecosystem—which was severely degraded even before the Gulf oil spill disaster.”
A study by Oxford Economics estimated that the oil spill could affect tourism for three years at a cost of $22.7 billion in lost revenues. According to “A Study of the Economic Impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill”, completed by Greater New Orleans, Inc., in Louisiana alone, between 2011 and 2013, gross losses to the economy from lost fishing revenues may be between $285 million and $428 million, resulting in the loss of between 2,700 and 4,000 full time equivalent jobs and lost employee earnings of between $68 million and $103 million.
The Commission staff’s recommendation echoes a recent government report by Navy Secretary and former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus detailing a long-term environmental restoration plan for the Gulf Coast. The report recommended “the President urge Congress to dedicate a significant amount of any civil penalties recovered under the Clean Water Act from the Deepwater Horizon spill be deposited into a Gulf Coast Recovery Fund managed by a Gulf Coast Recovery Council.”
The fines for violations of the Clean Water Act 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. Thus far, estimates are that the total fines will be between $5 billion and $21 billion.
In addition, nearly nine out of 10 voters (87%) in the five Gulf states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas agree that the environmental health of the Gulf Coast region affects their state's economy very much or somewhat, according to a recent bipartisan poll. The poll also showed that nearly eight out of 10 voters (78%) 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.
“Now President Obama should work with the Senate to fulfill his promise to create a long-term plan to restore the Gulf Coast and make it better than it was before the Gulf oil disaster,” the groups concluded. “Gulf Coast voters recognize that their economic future is tied to the President and the Senate working together to ensure that Gulf oil spill fines are dedicated to restoring the Gulf’s ecosystem.”
Sean Crowley, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.572.3331, firstname.lastname@example.org
David J. Ringer, National Audubon Society, 601.642.7058, email@example.com
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, firstname.lastname@example.org
I Ling Matthews, The Nature Conservancy, 512.623.7245, email@example.com
Dave Willett, Ocean Conservancy, 202.351.0465, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeffrey Buchanan, Oxfam America, 202.471.3055, email@example.com
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.
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