County Commissioners from across Florida's Gulf Coast met at the Hilton on Pensacola Beach Thursday morning to talk about for money from fines collected because of the Deepwater Oil Spill. This meeting took on added urgency because some of that money may soon be available.
Although we are still probably years away from knowing exactly how much money BP will be required to pay because of the spill, there is already a pot of $625 million in fines from a settlement with TransOcean, a subcontractor to BP, waiting to be distributed. Florida's senior senator Bill Nelson says that money has already been collected and will be distributed as soon as the Treasury Department finalizes the regulations for distribution which are mandated by the RESTORE Act. Wednesday morning, at a meeting held at Pensacola State College, Senator Nelson said those regulations may be released as soon as next Wednesday.
However, as Andrew Shepard, the Director of the Gulf of Mexico University Research Collaborative pointed out, those regulations were due back in 2012. Shepard gave a presentation on the situation in the gulf to The Florida Association of Counties Gulf Consortium as they held their monthly meeting on Pensacola Beach this week. He updated the county commissioners from across Florida's Gulf Coast on the state of the Gulf of Mexico and the necessity of making plans now for the money that will be coming, perhaps very soon. He pointed out that Louisiana already has a master plan in place, while Florida is waiting for the regulations before setting its plan.
The meeting on Pensacola Beach was chaired by Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson, who recently went to Washington with Senator Nelson to testify in front of the Senate Commerce Committee and, in the Senator's words, give them a "kick in the pants" to get the regulations for distributing the oil spill money in accordance with the RESTORE Act. Robinson says they got that kick, pointing out to the committee that if they want restoration plans, they need to pass the regulations.
Commissioner Robinson pointed out that unlike the other Gulf states, the money in Florida will not all go directly to the state. Instead it will be distributed only to the individual counties along the Gulf effected by the spill. That's a provision Senator Nelson and Commissioner Robinson made sure was in the act. Robinson feels the flexibility local governments will have using the money will make Florida's plan a model for others down the road.
And once the money flows and restoration begins, The Gulf University Research Collaborative's Andrew Shepard says getting all of the states and counties affected by the oil spill on the same page looks to be an uphill battle. He notes that each state will have a variety a interests vying for projects, each with different goals and agendas.
But before any of that can begin, all eyes and ears will remain on Washington...waiting for the regulations that will get the real work started.