Jun 28 2012

Birmingham News: RESTORE about to become law

RESTORE Act about to become law; provision for Gulf Coast survives final Capitol Hill negotiation

WASHINGTON- The RESTORE Act, a major legislative initiative for the Alabama Gulf Coast because of the windfall it presents for economic and environmental restoration,
was included in a final compromise announced today and expected to pass Congress by the end of the week.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., was a leading advocate for the plan that will divide 80
percent of the Clean Water Act fines levied after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the five most affected states, including Alabama.

"Today's agreement demonstrates the conference committee's commitment to restoring the Gulf Coast, one of our nation's most valuable economic and ecological assets," Shelby said. "Communities affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have waited long
enough for relief and should not be subject to the whims of future Congresses. "

Although the RESTORE Act passed the Senate this spring with bipartisan support as an amendment to the long-term transportation bill, it was never a guarantee that it would
survive the bipartisan negotiations between House and Senate leaders over the
final version. Those negotiations were secret and constantly shifting, even to
the last minute, so no one knew until today whether RESTORE would make the final

Shelby worked most closely with Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in pushing RESTORE through the Senate, signaling the bipartisan support that the plan had, especially in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Texas. The trick was convincing the rest of the country that Congress should change the law to allow those Clean Water Act fines to go directly to a handful of states as opposed to the general U.S. Treasury.

Depending on the final settlement, the fines on the companies responsible for the 2010 spill of 5 million barrels could be between $5 billion and $21 billion. RESTORE would channel the money to coastal restoration and economic development projects in the region, and has broad support from business interests, environmental groups, the seafood industry and tourism organizations. A new commission in each state, made up of local officials, would decide how the money is spent. In Alabama, the commission
includes the governor, mayors and county commissioners from Mobile and Baldwin counties, and the head of the Alabama State Port Authority.

Of the 80 percent set aside for the five states, 65 percent of the money will be controlled by the states; 30 percent will be spent by a federal-state task force, and 5 percent goes to research on the Gulf fisheries. Of the money going to the states, Alabama will get 20 percent, or one-fifth, according to Shelby's office.

Some portions of RESTORE were not included in the final deal, such as extended funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a new initiative related to ocean research and restoration.