The RESTORE Act was passed by the U.S. Congress to administer money in fines collected from BP and other companies held responsible by the feds for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, in which several Mississippians were killed and beaches in the Magnolia State and all around the Gulf states were polluted.
The bottom line: Some lawmakers are concerned about what states will get how much money and how the feds will let them spend it. That includes Mississippi.
Concerns from U.S. senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran were expressed in a joint news release.
“A lot of bipartisan effort went into the RESTORE Act, and I fully expect the administration to follow the law. Our primary objectives in this process were to ensure that both the ecological and economic needs of our states be met, with wide discretion granted to states and local governments. These objectives must remain at the forefront as this potential settlement is negotiated,” Cochran said.
“There are still outstanding issues that must be addressed requiring BP and DOJ to negotiate, but a process has been put in place for the Clean Water Act fines,” said Wicker. “The balance struck by the RESTORE Act was negotiated in a bipartisan manner and signed by the President. The RESTORE Act clearly states Congress’s intentions, and it should be implemented.”
The two Mississippi lawmakers were part of a party of just eight who drafted a letter to the president expressing their concerns that the DOJ might bend to a political agenda.
In addition to Cochran and Wicker, the letter was signed by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).
We've included the full text of the letter sent to the president, dated Oct. 5:
Dear President Obama:
Thank you for your support of the RESTORE Act and your efforts to promote the Gulf Coast’s recovery following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We appreciate your commitment to ensuring that the responsible parties are held liable for the damage caused to our coastal communities and habitats. However, we have grave concerns about developments of the settlement terms as reported in the press.
Recent reports suggest that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is leaning toward a global settlement agreement that involves reduced Clean Water Act penalties in exchange for a higher allocation under the Oil Pollution Act for natural resource damage assessments. These are separate penalties assessed under separate statutes, and undermining recovery attained through one by diverting fines to the other simply is not appropriate.
As you will recall, the RESTORE Act passed with broad bipartisan support, clearly illustrating the will of Congress—and the millions of Gulf Coast residents we represent—that the significant Clean Water Act penalties owed should be directed toward the Gulf’s ecological and economic recovery under the local input and control guidelines established by the law. Shortchanging the Clean Water Act penalty figure circumvents the will of Congress and the RESTORE Act and is wholly unacceptable to us. We urge you to reject such an approach.
The Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act have different objectives, and the parties responsible for the spill should be held fully accountable under both. Complete ecological and economic recovery of the Gulf Coast can only occur if just penalty amounts are assessed under every applicable statute. Accordingly, we urge you to negotiate a robust settlement that does not achieve a higher amount under one of these statutes at the expense of the other.