Whew! After months of negotiations, wrangling and missteps, a Senate bill has finally been introduced to use BP’s clean water act fines to jumpstart restoration efforts in the Gulf. Kudos to Senators Landrieu, Boxer, Vitter, Shelby, and every other member of the Gulf delegation who came together around this much-needed bill. In these days of hyper-partisanship it’s refreshing to see the cross region, cross party support. Here’s GRN’s official statement on the bill’s release. Of course, there’s a fair distance from bill introduction to bill passage, so this is no time to let up, but it’s a very hopeful sign. For a detailed account of that process, head here.The simple math is that 80% of the eventual fines get put into a restoration trust fund, which then splits up the money this way:35% directly to the states (7% to each)60% to be allocated by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (which the bill also creates). Of the 60%, 1/2 goes to the development and implementation of a comprehensive restoration plan (kind of like the plan currently under development by the Gulf Ecosystem Restoration Task Force) while the other 1/2 goes to the states, alocated via an impact-driven formula, for state restoration plans approved by the council.5% goes to a Gulf science and fisheries focused research program.So as I look at the math, it seems clear that we could see about $2 1/2 billion spent on ecosystem restoration for the Gulf, as long as BP ultimately ponies up at least the mid-range of their $5-$20b liability. That’s a lot of restoration. Of course, if the Restoration Council really takes its name to heart, and ensures that the money is spent on science-driven restoration efforts, it could be a lot more.For instance, in Louisiana, BP’s fines can be invested in restoring the Mississippi River Delta and the coastal wetlands it built. According to the USGS, Louisiana is experiencing 90% of our nation’s coastal wetlands loss, so it’s critical we move quickly to address this crisis. With the majority of sea life in the Gulf dependant on estuaries for part of their life cycle, healthy wetlands are a signficant part of the equation for a healthy Gulf.Our quick take on it is that the RESTORE Act is an important step towards holding BP accountable for the largest oil disaster in our nation’s history, and it is highly appropriate these funds are spent on restoring this threatened natural resource. Here’s how a few other groups are viewing the bill. Of course, we also need to PROTECT the Gulf, so Congress needs to pass legislation to head off future oil disasters by establishing a Gulf of Mexico Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council to give local, impacted communities a role in ensuring oil spill response plans aren’t about walruses and phantom skimming capacity.Aaron Viles is GRN’s Deputy Director.