Green heron and many other species should be breathing a sigh of relief today. Photo Jeffrey Dubinsky, GRNDo you hear it? The huge whoooshing sound escaping from the Gulf coast? It's a sigh of relief emanating from our nation's most important coastal marsh complex.
Yesterday, the RESTORE Act received 76 votes in the Senate. In case you haven't been paying attention to GRN or the Gulf, the RESTORE Act would direct 80% of BP's eventual Clean Water Act fines to fund ecosystem and economic restoration initatives in the wake of the BP drilling disaster. This means billions of dollars to jumpstart efforts such as Louisiana's Coastal Master Plan, environmental projects under the Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program, and many many others.
76 votes out of 100 is pretty cool, and in this partisan, divided Washington, that ranks along the lines of votes for the Korea free trade act, continuing to fund the Government for three months and extending the Payroll Tax cut. Thanks so much to everyone who called, e-mailed, tweeted and generally raised hell to make this happen.
Now before we go too crazy, there are a few more steps between where we're at now, and money coming to the Gulf.
First, the transportation bill has to be passed by the Senate. Those 76 votes yesterday were cast to add the RESTORE Act as an amendment to the transportation bill. That vote is probably going to happen early next week, and thankfully (whooshing sound from Nebraska, and those who care about our climate) the Keystone XL pipeline project was rejected yesterday as an amendment to the same bill, as was Sen. Vitter's Drill Baby Drill amendment, so we can actually support the underlying bill. Then the House has to get their act together on a Transportation Bill. Then you conference the two bills together, and the President signs the eventual outcome. If RESTORE stays a piece of the package during every step of that process, we end up with the enabling legislation.
Now, where's the money? Once Congress and the White House agree the Gulf should get the money, we need BP to cough it up. That could require a trial, or it could come through one more settlement, this time between state and federal Governments and BP. Read about the first settlement here.
So we need the Feds to hold a hard-line and demand that BP pay fines associated with the independently assessed oil spill volume and gross negligence, neither of which BP's going to be terribly interested in doing, but both of which are slam-dunks in a court trial. So it comes back to us, to keep the heat on our negotiators, and to demand a trial, or a settlement that's fair and reasonable for the Gulf.
Aaron Viles is GRN's Deputy Director. You can follow him on twitter here.
UPDATE: The Senate has passed the transportation bill, which the RESTORE Act was attached to.