By Cynthia Duet, National Audubon Society
With the first phase of the civil trial for the BP oil disaster in the books, we are one step nearer to seeing Clean Water Act penalties assessed for the largest oil spill in our nation’s history. While the ultimate amount of the fines remains uncertain, their destination does not: Thanks to last year’s historic RESTORE Act, 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties from the disaster will go to Gulf Coast states. Louisiana, with its hundreds of miles of oiled shoreline and battered wetlands and wildlife, stands to receive more RESTORE Act dollars than any other state. Used as intended, this money has the chance to help restore areas impacted by the spill and to address some of the state’s long-term coastal challenges.
The RESTORE Act is the direct result of over two years of hard work. This landmark bill would not be possible without the bipartisan group of legislators who pushed it through, the diverse coalition of state and local leaders, businesses, and NGOs, who raised awareness and support for the act, and the mass of citizen activists who voiced their support. After so much dedication, it’s important to ensure that the dollars received by the state are applied to the projects and programs that will bolster the restoration and protection of the coastal areas hit hardest by the oil spill.
Louisiana can do this through House Bill 118, a constitutional amendment that will require Clean Water Act monies received by the state be deposited into the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund and used for their intended purposes. The RESTORE Act provides the framework for use of the spill dollars, and Louisiana statutes require monies received by the state to be placed in its coastal trust fund. Constitutional protection of these dollars will solidify the application of these dollars toward implementation of critical coastal project development for many years, transcending potentially distracting discussions of uses of the funds for purposes other than those truly intended by federal and state law. Earlier this week, House Bill 118 was passed on the floor of the Louisiana House of Representatives unanimously by a vote of 98-0. The next step is the Louisiana Senate.
The passage of a constitutional amendment by a two-thirds vote of senators, later ratified by a vote of the people of Louisiana, will define Louisiana’s strong commitment to restoration of the Gulf ecosystem and the economies and communities on which a resilient Gulf depends.
Ecosystem restoration is the intent of the RESTORE Act and is the ultimate dream of the thousands who worked to secure its passage. Now is the time to send a strong signal to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, the entity in charge of dispersing RESTORE Act dollars, that Louisiana is SERIOUS about restoring the coast. By passing House Bill 118, Louisiana can prove that it’s ready and prepared to use restoration dollars quickly and wisely in the wake of the BP oil disaster.
After millions of barrels of oil and decades of coastal land loss, Louisiana’s coast is even more fragile than before. Supporting House Bill 118 and affirming a constitutional commitment to coastal restoration is the right thing to do.