As a member of the President’s National Oil Spill Commission, I am heartened to see bi-partisan legislation (S. 1400 – the RESTORE the Gulf Coast States Act) to direct Clean Water Act penalties collected as a result of the Gulf oil disaster towards restoration of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.
Ecosystem restoration of the Gulf coast is critically needed. That is why the Oil Spill Commission recommended that Congress direct 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines to Gulf ecosystem restoration.
The RESTORE Act is a step in the right direction; however, it allows a substantial portion of the money to go for uses other than ecosystem restoration. We at NRDC will focus on strengthening this legislation to be consistent with the Oil Spill Commission recommendation.
The money should be used exclusively for projects and programs that invest in natural resource restoration. Money should not be spent on activities, like building new roads, overpasses and convention centers, that have little to do with ecosystem restoration or that could even impede environmental restoration.
The Oil Spill Commission was very clear that funds directed at the Gulf Coast be used specifically for projects and programs which contribute to ecosystem resilience. The Commission recognized that the economies of the Gulf – fisheries, energy, and tourism – are rooted in the environment. Restoring resilience to the Gulf ecosystem is essential to sustain the Gulf economy now and for future generations.
Limiting the use of money specifically for science and ecosystem restoration activities will, over the long-run, manifest as a significant investment in the Gulf economy.