Congress Should Heed Oil Spill Commission Recommendation to Use Fines for Gulf Restoration

January 11, 2011

New Release

Sean Crowley, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.572.3331,  
David J. Ringer, National Audubon Society, 601.642.7058,  
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781,  
Steven Peyronnin, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, 225.413.6924,
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, 504.421.7348,  
I Ling Matthews, The Nature Conservancy, 512.623.7245,  
Brentin Mock, Ocean Conservancy 504.616.9150,  
Jeffrey Buchanan, Oxfam America, 202.471.3055,  

(Washington, DC–January 11) Eight non-profit groups today called on Congress to heed a key recommendation in the final report from the bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The recommendation is that “Congress should dedicate 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties to long-term restoration of the Gulf of Mexico” (see page 280 of report).

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) has introduced legislation, the Gulf Restoration Act (H.R. 56), that would require at least 80 percent of the civil and criminal penalties charged to BP under the Clean Water Act to be returned to the Gulf Coast for long-term economic and environmental recovery. U.S. Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and David Vitter (R-La.) introduced similar legislation last year. However, the Landrieu and Vitter bills expired at the end of the lame duck session for the previous Congress last month.

“The oil spill commission recognizes that we cannot compound one tragedy with another,” said a joint statement by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Environmental Defense Fund, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Ocean Conservancy, Oxfam America, and The Nature Conservancy. “Absent congressional action, Clean Water Act fines automatically will be deposited into the federal treasury. Congress should invest Clean Water Act penalties in the aggressive and comprehensive restoration of the ecosystem, creating thousands of new jobs and providing significant benefits to the commercial fishing and tourism industries, among others, impacted by the spill damage to the ecosystem.”

A study by Oxford Economics estimated that the oil spill could affect tourism for three years at a cost of $22.7 billion in lost revenues. According to “A Study of the Economic Impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill,” completed by Greater New Orleans, Inc., in Louisiana alone, between 2011 and 2013, gross losses to the economy from lost fishing revenues may be between $285 million and $428 million, resulting in the loss of between 2,700 and 4,000 full time-equivalent jobs and lost employee earnings of between $68 million and $103 million.

The commission’s recommendation echoes a recent government report by Navy Secretary and former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus. The report details the need for a long-term environmental restoration plan for the Gulf Coast to fulfill President Obama’s “commitment to the Gulf Coast that goes beyond responding to the crisis of the moment [including] multiple economic disasters and decades of environmental degradation that has led to disappearing wetlands and habitats.” The report recommended that the President urge Congress to “allow a significant amount of any civil penalties recovered under the Clean Water Act from the Deepwater Horizon spill to be deposited into a Gulf Coast Recovery Fund managed by a Gulf Coast Recovery Council.”

The fines for violations of the Clean Water Act alone will range from a maximum of between $1,100 and $4,300 for each of the 4.9 million barrels spilled, depending upon whether the responsible parties are found to have been grossly negligent for the Macondo well blowout. Thus far, estimates are that the total fines will be between $5 billion and $21 billion.

In addition, nearly eight out of 10 voters (78%) favor creation of a separate fund for the Gulf region and the Mississippi River Delta that includes fines for violating both the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act, according to a recent bipartisan poll. The poll also showed that nearly nine out of 10 voters (87%) in the five Gulf states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas agree that the environmental health of the Gulf Coast region affects their state’s economy very much or somewhat.

“Now President Obama should work with the new Congress to secure the long-term funding to fulfill his promise to restore the Gulf Coast and make it better than it was before the Gulf oil disaster,” the groups concluded. “The first critical step requires that the President and Congress work together to ensure that Gulf oil spill fines are dedicated to restoring the Gulf’s ecosystem.”