Rules in the Federal Register for Gulf Coast States on how billions of dollars in fine money from the RESTORE Act can be spent have been finalized and published by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson,who chairs the Florida Gulf Coast Consortium, says the five states (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas) now have an idea of how to obtain the money related the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon.
“This is a good day for Escambia County, and a good day for all of Florida and all of the Gulf Coast,” said Robinson. “We’ve been waiting on this for almost two years. Better late than never.”
Robinson says under the rules, 35% of the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund will be divided equally among the five states for ecological and economic restoration. Florida's allocation goes to the 23 coastal counties that form the Consortium, including Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton.
Most of the fines will come from BP once the current federal trial in New Orleans comes to an end. Speaking in Pensacola earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said BP’s liability is expected to land somewhere between $1,000 and $5,000, per barrel of oil spilled into the Gulf.
“If you multiply that times five million barrels, you can see that you’re talking anywhere from $5 billion to $25 billion,” said Nelson.
Nelson and Commissioner Grover Robinson appeared last month before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. They expressed frustration with the slow method of dispersing the BP funds.
RESTORE mandates that 80% of civil and administrative penalties under the Clean Water Act is placed into the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. That money will pay for ecosystem restoration, economic recovery and tourism promotion in the affected region. Robinson says he also wants to find a way to take the BP fine money – whatever the amount – and leverage it.
“I’d like to take every dollar we get from RESTORE and turn it into at least another dollar or two in federal money through some grants,” Robinson said. “I think that’s also just as important, and if we don’t maximize this, then we haven’t done the right thing for the communities.”
The plan from the Treasury Department, Robinson adds, could lead them to opportunities to develop funding streams above and beyond RESTORE.
Roughly $1 billion has already been collected from a settlement from Transocean, which operated Deepwater Horizon. Wednesday’s action by Treasury also sets up how those funds will be handed out.