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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Panel calls for spending BP penalty money on restoring Gulf Coast

    WASHINGTON — Billions of dollars in penalties that the federal government is expected to collect from BP for its role in Deepwater Horizon oil spill should be directed toward restoring both the economy and the environment of the Gulf Coast, an advisory group appointed by President Barack Obama said Tuesday.

    Under current law, penalties levied against BP and others for violating the Clean Water Act would go into something called the Oil Spill Liability Fund, to be used in any future oil spills.

    But Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, the former Mississippi governor whom Obama had tasked with leading a team to draw up the Gulf restoration plan, urged Congress to pass new laws that would “”dedicate a significant amount”” of the penalties to be spent on the recent spill.

    He called for putting the Deepwater Horizon penalties into a new fund to be administered by a Gulf Coast Restoration Council with both state and federal authorities represented. The money should be used to renew the region’s environment and economy and address the mental health needs of its residents, Mabus said.

    In its report, the restoration planning team also recommended that a percentage of the penalties should go to the affected states quickly to “”jumpstart”” their own restoration efforts.

    A consortium of major environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation, praised the recommendations. BP did not respond to requests for comment.

    But it remains to be seen if Congress will take up the panel’s recommendations. While the House has passed legislation on improving offshore drilling safety, the Senate has yet to vote on the matter. And the House legislation does not specify how any penalty monies should be spent.

    It is unclear whether the Senate will vote on the issue at all in the lame duck session after the November elections. If Congress or even one chamber changes hands, as many predict, the drive to tighten regulation of the oil and gas extraction industries and pursue large-scale environmental goals might stall.

    A great deal would depend on how the Republican governors weigh in on the recommendations, said Mark Davis, director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy.

    “”God and the devil are in the details,”” Davis said.

    Mabus said that as his team pulled together the report, he kept the senators from the five Gulf states and the House members representing coastal areas of those states apprised of the findings. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who participated with Mabus in a phone call with reporters, said that she would soon reach out to congressional leadership on the issue.

    The penalties in the wake of the oil spill, the largest in American history, could be vast. According to the Clean Water Act, responsible parties in a spill could pay between $1,100 and $4,300 for every barrel of oil spilled. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, which spewed 4.9 million barrels, the total could range from $5 billion to $21 billion.

    The exact amount would depend upon whether BP is found grossly negligent, the environmental consortium said in its statement.

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