Sen. Mary Landrieu, Rep. Steve Scalise unite behind coastal restoration strategy


U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise on Monday used the backdrop of the Audubon Zoo’s swamp exhibit as the setting for their latest call for support of legislation that would direct 80 percent of the money collected from BP for violations of the Clean Water Act to coastal restoration projects in states along the Gulf of Mexico.

BP and other companies involved in causing the catastrophic oil release in the Gulf of Mexico could be required to pay between $5.4 billion and $21 billion in fines under a provision of the Clean Water Act that provides for fines of $1,100 per barrel of oil spilled, or $4,300 per barrel, if gross negligence can be proved.

Money from such fines often goes directly to the federal budget, rather than to local needs, such as the coastal projects proposed by Landrieu, Scalise, Gov. Bobby Jindal and a variety of environmental groups.

“The injury occurred here. The pollution occurred here. And the response and the recovery should be directed here to the Gulf Coast,” Landrieu said.

“We need to make it clear very early on – before the amount of money is known, before the money ends up in Washington in a big grab-bag – we want to make it clear that that money ought to stay here among the Gulf Coast states that have been impacted by the disaster,” Scalise said.

Scalise said he plans to submit a bill in the House of Representatives on Tuesday that would create a new Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, which would hand out the money to states that have adopted coastal ecosystem restoration plans that it approves.

The task force would include representatives of numerous federal agencies, and state and local governments.

Scalise said the formula for distributing the money has not yet been worked out, but he expects the distribution to be based on the damage suffered by each state.

A draft of Scalise’s bill on Monday indicated it would apply only to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, which suffered the most significant effects.

Landrieu is sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate, but her bill was not available on Monday.

Both said their legislation would be limited to sharing money resulting from Clean Water Act fines. BP may also be cited for violation of other federal laws governing natural resources, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The company also will be required to pay for mitigation of effects on natural resources under the Oil Pollution Act, which requires trustees of public resources – various federal agencies, affected states and Native American tribes – to work with the oil spill’s responsible parties to develop a “natural resources damage assessment.”

Garret Graves, chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which is acting as the state’s lead trustee for the BP spill, on Monday repeated the state’s position that BP should pay a share of the expected mitigation costs in advance, with the money financing restoration projects that are part of the state’s coastal master plan.

In August, Landrieu also introduced a bill she labeled the “Respond Act” that calls for an earlier distribution of offshore oil revenue to coastal states than called for by the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. That law, which took effect in 2007, would provide Louisiana a 36 percent share of revenue from new leases issued in 2017 and beyond.

Also appearing at Monday’s news conference in support of the legislation proposed by Landrieu and Scalise representatives of the National Wildlife Federation, Gulf Restoration Network, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and Audubon Nature Institute.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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