President Obama signed the RESTORE Act into law Friday, a measure that will channel billions of dollars in BP oil spill fine money away from federal coffers, sending it instead directly to the Gulf Coast states to aid in environmental and economic recovery.
Senators Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) and Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) introduced the RESTORE Act in July 2011 in an effort to ensure most of the fines collected under the Clean Water Act would be invested on the Gulf Coast. Under federal law, such fines collected by the government are normally deposited in a general fund used for the cleanup of future oil spills. Eighty percent of the funds will be sent to the five Gulf Coast States: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
BP currently faces paying fines between $5 and $21 billion for polluting the Gulf of Mexico with millions of gallons of oil after its Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf in April 2010. The fines are to be calculated on a per-barrel basis. BP disputes the federal government’s estimate that its blown-out Macondo well released 206 million gallons into the water.
Other factors may influence the fines, such as whether negligence on BP’s part played a role in the spill. Although BP and government lawyers have not reached a settlement, BP has said it expects to pay about $8 billion in fines.
Alabama will receive 20 percent of BP’s fine money, but state officials haven’t made a final decision on how the money will be used. Each state will assemble a commission of leaders including mayors, county commissioners, and other officials who will decide how the money is spent.
“The focus now shifts to the committee and what we do or don’t do,” Dauphin Island mayor Jeff Collier told the Mobile Press-Register. “Hopefully, we will do what’s right for the entire area. It gives us the opportunity to undo a lot of the bad things that came out of the oil spill.”
News of the RESTORE Act’s passage came as exciting news to Alabama’s environmental and industry groups alike. Orange Beach mayor Tony Kennon told the Press-Register that the funds “will change our world.”
“It would be a blessing,” Kennon told the Press-Register. “Especially if the money goes into long-term, revenue-producing projects, economic development or infrastructure.”
Casi Callaway, director of the environmental group Mobile Baykeeper, told the Press-Register that the RESTORE Act’s passage is thrilling news for the Alabama Gulf Coast.
“We still anxiously await the details, but this will move the Gulf Coast toward real and significant restoration of our environment and, therefore, our economy. It’s been a long time coming and we are grateful for some amazing leadership getting this bill across the finish line,” she told the Press-Register.