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First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross

Advocates Call For Investment In Gulf Coast Economy, Environment With Deepwater Spill Funds

U.S. Coast Guard
Wikimedia Commons

In a departure from past responses to violations of the Clean Water Act, Congress is looking to disperse fines from BP in a way that will benefit the economies most affected by the spill.The RESTORE Act, passed in 2012, is a landmark piece of legislation that directs most of the fines paid by BP for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to state and local governments on the Gulf Coast.

A federal judge in New Orleans will soon determine just how much these fines will be. Advocates say that this act gives Florida a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in its Gulf Coast in a way that can meaningfully improve the environment and the state's economy.

Daniel Rothschild, Senior Fellow at the R Street Institute, joined Melissa Ross on First Coast Connect to discuss the act and its implications for Florida.

“There’s opportunities to do things that have both positive economic and environmental benefits,” Rothschild said. “It makes all the sense in the world to invest in things that will really allow businesses to thrive, will encourage the tourist economy, and will do positive things for Florida’s environment.”

Though the spill most immediately impacted the Gulf Coast, its effects were felt across the state, and many are looking for restitution for the negative effects on the economy.

While the initial disbursement — up to $18 billion according to Rothschild — will go to the fund set up under the Clean Water Act, about 80 percent of these fines will be allotted to state and local governments in the Gulf Coast under the RESTORE Act. Florida could see allocations in the millions.

This attempt to direct funds more specifically raises concerns for those who worry that the funds won’t end up where they’re needed most.

Rothschild points out that if these funds are not used as intended for environmental and economic reparations and improvement, taxpayers may end up bearing a bigger burden later on.

He believes this can be avoided by using RESTORE Act funds for projects to prevent significant damage from future natural disasters.

“If what you’re trying to do is increase the resiliency of communities along the Gulf Coast, then doing things to mitigate the potential negative impacts of future flooding and hurricanes is definitely a part of that,” Rothschild noted.

Those who are dependent on a thriving Gulf Coast for their livelihood are eager for these funds to become available. Many are still dealing with the effects of the spill and have by no means recovered.

“It’s a misconception nationally,” said Rothschild. “I think it’s important to continue to bring attention to the fact that seafood stocks are down, (and) that both commercial and recreational fishing are still hurting.”

The possibilities for where these funds will end up are numerous, but Rothschild notes that Florida is unique in that counties decide how the money will be spent locally.

The federal judge in New Orleans is expected to make a decision in spring or summer of this year. The U.S. Treasury will then have to make final rules before checks are distributed.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax and Aaron Badida @aaronbadida.