Oil Spill Commission Says Congress Should Use BP Fines for Gulf Restoration

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Commission Recommendation Echoes Mabus Report to President –

Today, Vanishing Paradise is calling on Congress to heed a key recommendation in the final report from the bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The recommendation is that “Congress should dedicate 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties to long-term restoration of the Gulf of Mexico” (see page 280 of report). Restoration of these coastal Gulf areas-especially in coastal Louisiana-could improve degraded waterfowl habitat and both salt- and freshwater fisheries that have been damaged by this summer’s Gulf oil disaster and the massive land loss coastal Louisiana has faced over the past several decades.

“Congress must take action to dedicate this large portion of Clean Water Act penalties to the comprehensive restoration of coastal Louisiana’s devastated ecosystem,” said Land Tawney, National Wildlife Federation’s senior manager for sportsman leadership. “Following the oil spill, Louisiana needs aggressive restoration now more than ever. Now is the time to implement projects that can successfully reconnect the Mississippi River with the wetlands it has been severed from for years, and the Clean Water Act penalties can provide the necessary funding to move those projects forward.”

“Coastal Louisiana’s marshes provide 10 million ducks and geese wintering habitat every year and world class waterfowling opportunities follow,” Tawney continued. “Only this winter-in addition to facing greatly reduced habitats due to land loss-migrating waterfowl had to deal with wetlands damaged by oil. Plus, we remain uncertain of the long-term effects these species and their habitats may face, especially diving ducks like scaup, canvasbacks, and redheads. Speckled trout and redfish were also affected during their spawning seasons. Devoting Clean Water Act penalties to coastal Louisiana restoration is a key first step in rebuilding these damaged wildlife habitats and protecting these species.”

Last year, U.S. Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and David Vitter (R-La.) and U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) introduced legislation that would require at least 80 percent of the civil and criminal penalties charged to BP under the Clean Water Act to be returned to the Gulf Coast for long-term economic and environmental recovery. However, those bills expired at the end of the lame duck session for the previous Congress last month.

The Commission’s recommendation echoes a recent government report by Navy Secretary and former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus. The report details 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 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.”

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.

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Emily Guidry Schatzel