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Group: Spend Oil Spill Fines on Restoration

By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida Email
By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida Email

Tallahassee, FL - December 5, 2011

With Congressional hearings slated for Wednesday and litigation moving forward, a leading environmental group on Monday urged federal lawmakers to use expected fines from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill on restoration efforts that will translate into jobs and economic growth.

With some federal lawmakers pushing to divert the $5 billion to $21 billion in anticipated Clean Water Act fines to pay down the national debt, a Duke University study released Monday by the Environmental Defense Fund estimates that using that money to fund coastal restoration projects would not only provide quick jobs, but would also develop an emerging industrial sector that could provide long-term benefits.

The EDF-backed study was released the same day the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, set up by Congress following the spill, released its 128-page report outlining a series of strategies to restore coastal habitat and water quality while replenishing seafood stocks and making coastal communities more diverse and resilient.

Coastal restoration efforts would have wide-ranging impacts on the Gulf region, benefiting a host of business sectors from commercial fishing and tourism to manufacturers, shipbuilders, machinery repair companies and engineering firms - and the money is there, the EDF report said.

"The one thing Washington isn't good at is creating jobs," said Jackie Roberts, EDF director of sustainable technologies. "To create jobs you have to create customers. There is a real opportunity here with the RESTORE Act to create customers for firms."

Unless Congress specifically earmarks the funds, Clean Water Act penalties are deposited in the US Treasury with no specified uses. Environmental groups and Gulf state officials are concerned the fines will be used for other purposes not related to the 4.9 million barrel spill.

The level of funding will depend on how hefty the fines are. That is expected to be determined either by a judge or litigants who continue to negotiate in hopes of reaching a possible settlement.

BP's Gulf restoration point man told the News Service of Florida that the company remains committed to "doing the right thing" as it works toward closing out the claims process for the bulk of private and governmental claims.

Gier Robinson, vice president of economic recovery for BPs Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, said the company accepts its share of responsibility for the spill and will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure the vitality of the Gulf region, in which it has its own stake with more than 800 retail stations, terminals and plans to build an ethanol plant.

"The Gulf is hugely important to us, not only from an oil exploration point of view but also from a retail point of view," Robinson said. "We want to carry on being in business here for the long-term.Part of our key strategy is to have business in the U.S. and in the Gulf."

As of Dec. 1, the company has paid our nearly $7.7 billion in claims to private and public recipients, including $6.1 billion to individuals and business and another $1.3 billion to local and state governments.

Of that, Florida has so far received $2.4 billion, of which $1.6 billion was earmarked for Panhandle counties hardest hit by the spill.

The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is scheduled to take testimony this week on H.R. 3096, which would earmark 80 percent of fines to Gulf restoration efforts.

The Senate Public Works Committee, has approved that chamber's version, S.R. 1400, sponsored by nine Gulf state Senators including Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and his Republican colleague, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

"The penalties for oiled birds, damaged shores and idle fishing boats should come back to the states to restore our Gulf environment, said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida. The oil spill showed that people and wildlife of the Gulf live in a delicate balance. The penalty must be investment to secure our future, so send the BP fines back for Gulf restoration.


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