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Senate passes measure

03/08/2012 at 4:13pm

Senate passes measure to restore Gulf
communities still hurting from 2010 BP spill

The Island Sand Paper has learned that the Senate today passed legislation aimed at making sure no one can take money from victims of BP's oil spill and spend it elsewhere.

The Senate approved the measure - sponsored by U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Richard Shelby - by a bipartisan and lopsided 76-22 vote. The amendment was part of a broader transportation bill the Senate currently is debating. The broader bill is expected to pass the Senate by next Tuesday. The House is still working on its transportation bill, but the language of Nelson’s amendment has a dozen bipartisan supporters in that chamber.

"Today’s vote was a huge step toward making sure any fines against BP end up in the local communities harmed by the company’s oil spill,” Nelson said after passage of the Gulf of Mexico restoration amendment. "Otherwise, the money would go into the federal treasury – and, there's no telling where it might go from there.”

Nelson was joined on the amendment by Sens. Landrieu of Louisiana and Shelby of Alabama, two other Gulf states hit hard by the 2010 BP oil spill. In a nutshell, the amendment says 80 percent of any fines the government imposes on BP as a result of the Deepwater Horizon spill will be used to restore the commercial fishing and tourism-driven economies and environment of the Gulf coast states from Florida to Texas.

Fines against BP could come from either the federal government or the judge presiding over a number of combined lawsuits against the oil company. At present, settlement negotiations continue between BP and some of the plaintiffs in those suits. The judge, meantime, is going to wait until the negotiations are done before deciding on separate fines. Experts estimate those fines could be as high as $21 billion.

Whatever the amount, that money could have gone into the Treasury and been spent on any number of things besides Gulf restoration. But this amendment makes sure 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties charged to BP are used solely for restoration along the Gulf Coast.