RESTORE Act: Cleaning up the Gulf Coast

By James Haralson

Gulf coast states looking for relief after the 2010 BP oil spill disaster now have some good news: the passing of the RESTORE Act.
President Barack Obama signed the RESTORE Act on July 6, which states that 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties paid by BP will now be directed to a trust fund helping restoration on the gulf coast. The five states affected most by the spill will benefit from this new legislation: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Texas.

The fines are based on standards set by the Clean Water Act (1972) and Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Without the passing of the RESTORE Act, these fines would normally go straight to the U.S. Treasury. Since fines would go directly into coastal restoration, a Reuters article estimates that Louisiana could see “anywhere from $4 billion to $16 billion.”

In a recent interview with The Daily Comet, U.S. Representative Steve Scalise of Metairie said the signing of the law is “the single most significant action” taken to restore the Louisiana coast. Scalise also stated that, “[t]his major milestone is vital as we work to ensure full recovery.”

Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet also underscored the importance of theRESTORE Act in a recent interview with The Daily Comet. Claudet said the Act is vital for residents in “rapidly eroding coastal parishes.” With the passing of this legislation, Claudet also said restoration projects (that have remained “on the books without a source of money”) now have the opportunity to be fully implemented with the extra funds.

But Louisiana may have trouble getting access to these extra funds as settlement negotiations continue between BP and the federal government.
The severity of these fines will be based on whether or not BP is found guilty of gross negligence in the spill. Currently, BP is denying any gross negligence or willful misconduct took place with the oil spill. If the court system finds BP guilty of negligence or willful misconduct, then the fines from the Clean Water Act would significantly increase.

Garret Graves, Senior Environmental Adviser to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, recognized the significance of this dispute with BP in a recent Reuters article, and underscored the importance of getting it resolved so Louisiana can devote large funds to increased coastal restoration.
“In order to trigger this bill, either BP’s going to have to settle this or we’re going to have to get into court to fight this out,” Graves told Reuters.

Currently, BP has reached an estimated $7.8 billion resolving economic, property, and medical claims. According to Reuters, a fairness hearing on the settlement is set for November.

Louisiana took in the most damage from the oil spill, which had about 650 miles of spill-related damage along its coastline. Experts told Reuters that Louisiana has a “high incentive to hold out for protracted court battle than agree to a settlement that might bring a lower payout.”