Environmental group: Spend oil spill fines on restoration

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With Congressional hearings slated for Wednesday and litigation moving forward, a leading environmental group on Monday urged federal lawmakers to use expected fines from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill on restoration efforts that will translate into jobs and economic growth, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

With some federal lawmakers pushing to divert the $5 billion to $21 billion in anticipated Clean Water Act fines to pay down the national debt, a Duke University study released Monday by the Environmental Defense Fund estimates that using that money to fund coastal restoration projects would not only provide quick jobs, but would also develop an emerging industrial sector that could provide long-term benefits.

The EDF-backed study was released the same day the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, set up by Congress following the spill, released its 128-page report outlining a series of strategies to restore coastal habitat and water quality while replenishing seafood stocks and making coastal communities more diverse and resilient.

Coastal restoration efforts would have wide-ranging impacts on the Gulf region, benefiting a host of business sectors from commercial fishing and tourism to manufacturers, shipbuilders, machinery repair companies and engineering firms – and the money is there, the EDF report said.

“The one thing Washington isn’t good at is creating jobs,” said Jackie Roberts, EDF director of sustainable technologies. “To create jobs you have to create customers. There is a real opportunity here with the RESTORE Act to create customers for firms.”

Unless Congress specifically earmarks the funds, Clean Water Act penalties are deposited in the US Treasury with no specified uses. Environmental groups and Gulf state officials are concerned the fines will be used for other purposes not related to the 4.9 million barrel spill.

The level of funding will depend on how hefty the fines are. That is expected to be determined either by a judge or litigants who continue to negotiate in hopes of reaching a possible settlement.

BP’s Gulf restoration point man told the News Service of Florida that the company remains committed to “doing the right thing” as it works toward closing out the claims process for the bulk of private and governmental claims.

Gier Robinson, vice president of economic recovery for BP

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.