Cochran, Wicker Praise Senate Passage of Restore the Gulf Coast Act

Senate Adds RESTORE Act to Federal Highway Bill, Outlines Oil Spill Aid to Gulf Coast

March 8, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) today praised Senate passage of an amendment they strongly supported to compensate Mississippi and other Gulf Coast states for damages sustained during the tragic Deepwater Horizon oil spill nearly two years ago.

The Senate today voted 76-22 to approve an amendment that will provide Gulf Coast states with an 80 percent share of federal fines that will be paid by BP and other parties held responsible for the April 2010 catastrophe.  The Senate vote exceeded the 60-vote majority needed to add the amendment to the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (S.1813 or MAP-21).

The amendment added to a two-year highway bill closely follows the original RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act of 2011 (S.1400) that the Mississippi Senators cosponsored last year to support ecological and economic recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast. 

“This is a significant legislative step to ensure that reparations are made to Mississippi and other states harmed environmentally and economically by the oil spill. The margin of this vote is a clear indication that there is broad support for giving Gulf Coast states resources to address the long-term consequences of the oil spill tragedy,” Cochran said.

“Passage of the RESTORE Act today is an achievement for the Gulf Coast and Mississippians still struggling to recover from the Deepwater Horizon spill,” said Wicker.  “This bipartisan legislation directs support to the Gulf States where it is needed, and I am honored to have worked to get it passed.”

Like the original S.1400, the RESTORE Act amendment follows the recommendations from Gulf Coast restoration groups and establishes a Gulf Coast Restoration Fund to provide Gulf Coast states—Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Texas—with 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines related to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.  The remaining 20 percent of the fines will be directed to the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

The amendment will equally provide a portion of the fine revenues to the five Gulf Coast states for ecological and economic recovery on the coast.  It creates the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, a federal-state organization that will develop and support a comprehensive ecological recovery plan.

The RESTORE Act provision also directs funding for a Gulf Coast research, science and technology program for fisheries management, ecosystem monitoring and grants to establish related Gulf Coast Centers of Excellence. In addition, it also creates a National Endowment for Oceans to fund grants to restore, protect, maintain or carry out academic research on the nation’s oceanic and coastal resources.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency may assess a $1,100 fine for every barrel of oil spilled.  Fines can escalate to $4,300 per barrel if the damages were due to gross negligence from any party found responsible for an oil spill in federal waters.  Based on the estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, BP could face fines between $5.4 billion and $21.1 billion.

The RESTORE Act amendment approved today also reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund from 2015 to 2022 and provides FY2013 and FY2014 funding for this fund.

The Senate is working on completing consideration of MAP-21 following a leadership agreement to consider 30 amendments.  Debate on these amendments could extend into next week.  S.1813 is a $109 billion, two-year reauthorization of federal-aid highway construction and highway safety programs.  A short-term extension of these programs expires March 31.