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House Passes Restore Act Amendment
The House passed an amendment Wednesday night critical to the Gulf Coast that directs at least 80 percent of BP oil spill fines to the five Gulf states.
The vote was 266-159.
The unexpected inclusion of the amendment, which is a major portion of the Restore Act, in the debate over energy and the surface transportation bill, came after several lawmakers, including Reps. Steve Palazzo, R-Biloxi, Steve Scalise, R-La., and Peter Olson, R-Texas, persuaded GOP leadership to agree to it.
“This amendment is a huge first step, and it will be the first time either House of Congress votes on bringing oil spill fines back to the Gulf Coast states,” said Palazzo.
Scalise said, “This is a really important milestone. We feel like we’ve got a real opportunity to get this passed and get this fund in place.”
The amendment sets up the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund for the five Gulf Coast states, and sets aside 80 percent percent of the Clean Water Act fines -- an amount that could reach $20 billion.
A federal case with hundreds of consolidated lawsuits will begin Feb. 27 before a judge in New Orleans but Palazzo and other lawmakers anticipate a BP settlement with the U.S. government and wanted to get the amendment in place as soon as possible to ensure funds are aimed at the Gulf Coast.
The amendment is a smaller version of the Restore Act, which Gulf lawmakers have been advocating for months. The amendment that was voted on Wednesday does not include the formulas distributing the funds, which Scalise said would be done later or possibly in the Senate.
The EPA fines are separate from a $20 billion fund BP set up to compensate victims.
“This is a large part of what we’ve been working for over the past year, and we won’t stop until those fine dollars have been brought home to the Gulf Coast states,” said Palazzo.