How $20 billion in BP fines can go to restoring the Gulf

Living on Earth

Soldiers from the Alabama National Guard build and maintain miles of HESCO barriers to protect Dauphin Island, Ala., beaches from the BP oil spill on July 23, 2010. (Image by Wikimedia user National Guard (cc:by-sa))

Story by Paul Greenberg for Living on Earth. Listen to audio above for full interview.

After scoring a resounding F during last July's miserable debt ceiling fight, Senate and House members are stumbling back from their summer vacation, desperate for an easy A. And actually, there's one waiting for them if they want it - bobbing in plain sight in the legislative waters in the wake of the BP oil spill.

You see, the Federal Clean Water Act, the instrument that the government is using to exact fines from BP, has one tricky problem - oil spillers must pay anywhere from $1,100 to $4,300 for every barrel of oil spilled. But, the Clean Water Act doesn't really stipulate where that money should go, or how it should be spent.

What that means, is that the possibly $20 billion BP is supposed to pay in fines could simply disappear into the morass that is the federal government's $3.8 trillion annual budget. Fortunately, the ultimate do-nothing Congress has a chance to do something smart about this. Bill S-1400 that will go before legislators this fall, has the simple goal to mandate the federal government to use the BP oil spill damages to actually fix the Gulf. And boy, is that money needed!

In addition to cleanup, the Gulf needs massive programs to restore the regions marshes - marshes which are now disappearing at a rate of 1.5 Manhattans a year. It needs work to rebuild barrier islands that protect the shorelines from hurricanes. And, it needs a huge investment to restore the billions of oysters that were lost during last year's spill.

And what's great about this particular piece of legislation is that it probably wouldn't cost the taxpayer anything, while at the same time creating important economic benefits in the form of rebuilt fisheries, safer shorelines and cleaner ecosystems. Maybe this is why both Tea Partiers and Democrats like this bill!

A recent poll of 1,000-plus likely voters, conducted by Lake Research Partners, showed broad bipartisan support for using BP funds to restore the Gulf. And so, Congress, still sitting in the corner with the dunce caps on after getting the lowest public opinion ratings in history, has a chance to come back and score an easy A. Lets hope they don't find a new and innovative way to flunk out.

Read the full transcript on the Living on Earth website.

Here's what some folks on PRI's Facebook page had to say about this topic:

Josh Wallman: Took this long to get this legislation this far? Can you say oil lobby stonewalling?

Tamia Burt: I think the oil company shouldn't be able to get a "business loss" tax break if the loss resulted from their negligence/fault. Clean-up costs should come out of their profits.

Bill Webber: Well, you can start by having BP actually pay the damn thing and tell the oil lobbyists they can take their objections and wipe their collective asses with them!!

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Hosted by Steve Curwood, "Living on Earth" is an award-winning environmental news program that delves into the leading issues affecting the world we inhabit. 

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