Legislators agree on recovery and restoration plan for BP oil spill fine money

A landmark new bill that would direct billions of dollars in BP oil spill fine money to Gulf Coast recovery and restoration efforts cleared the Senate today with broad bipartisan support. Senators from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida — the Gulf states most affected by the BP oil spill – negotiated the long-awaited plan for months before coming to an agreement Thursday. The legislation is being welcomed throughout the country as a refreshing bit of progress made by a hyper-partisan government.

The federal government will collect the funds under the Clean Water Act, which penalizes companies for polluting the nation’s water resources on per-gallon basis. BP faces fines anywhere from $5.4 billion to $21.1 billion, depending on how much “gross negligence” played a part in BP’s massive 206-million-gallon spill, which erupted in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010.

According to the agreement reached Thursday, 80 percent of the fine money collected will go directly to the Gulf states. Thirty-five percent of that will then be distributed equally amongst the five Gulf states; 30 percent will be funneled into a “comprehensive ecosystem restoration plan;” 30 percent will be distributed to the states based on a formula for how much each state was harmed by the oil; and 5 percent will fund a Gulf science and fisheries program.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss, said in a statement that the agreement “represents a balanced approach by all Gulf state senators to support economic and environmental restoration with flexibility for the states to choose their own priorities.”

Likewise, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL, said the legislation “allows for great flexibility in the allocation of recovery funds to ensure that the penalties our state is owed are distributed in the best interest of Alabama’s coastal communities.”

The bill was also supported by California representative Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a Texas senator and Kay Bailey-Hutchison.