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Gulf Coast RESTORE Act Passes Big Hurdle

March 9, 2012

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida and other Gulf Coast states are one step closer to restoration of areas damaged by the 2010 BP oil spill.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted 76-22 to pass the RESTORE Act, which would set up a trust to be funded by the billions of dollars BP is expected to pay the United States in punitive damages because of the spill.

David White, director of Gulf of Mexico restoration for the National Wildlife Federation, calls the vote an important first step in protecting a vital resource for the nation.

"It's incredibly important, in terms of the gross domestic product of the United States. It provides 90 percent of the shrimp that comes from America. It's incredibly important."

The RESTORE Act will move on to the House. The exact amount of punitive damages is still being calculated, and the case between BP and the United States will either go through mediation or to court. From $5 billion to $25 billion is expected, a range White calls a conservative estimate.

The RESTORE Act would ensure that 80 percent of the money collected as a result of the punitive damages will go to the Gulf of Mexico. White says the trust fund would help with economic and ecologic recovery and set up a science and fisheries endowment.

"It's not just about oil and gas. There's a large dead zone out in the Gulf of Mexico that very few things can live in."

Under current law, the Clean Water Act gives the federal government the authority to fine parties responsible for an oil spill, but the penalties paid are not necessarily returned to the area affected.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL