Well, BP’s bill is coming due and almost nine of 10 Floridians think the oil company’s fines should go to the states that suffered the greatest harm from the spill. Sen. Bill Nelson thinks that’s just common sense. Sen. Marco Rubio agrees.
But a huge chunk of BP’s penalties are dangerously close to disappearing into the black hole of the federal treasury instead of coming back to Florida.
The buzz in D.C. says that BP could try to settle with the U.S. Justice Department at the end of February to avoid a trial. If that happens before Congress passes a law directing the fine money back to the Gulf Coast states, Florida and the others can just get back in line and wait some more.
Let’s be clear about what’s at stake. There’s a historic, bipartisan agreement in place among the five key states. It will begin to restore the Gulf Coast at the massive scale needed to rebuild a way of life that’s literally washing out to sea. That agreement, the RESTORE Act, is waiting to hitch a ride on a piece of legislation in the Senate, maybe something like the extension of payroll tax cuts.
Who doesn’t think that’s a good idea? Here’s what even Howie Mandel knows: There’s a time to just take the deal.
Why take the deal? Because if we don’t, we have no reason to believe those dollars will come back to Florida. So much for protecting Florida’s world-famous waters and beaches or using the money toward restoring Florida’s spectacular bird colonies, sea turtles and other wildlife. There goes the hand up for small business owners, fishers or the tourism industry or communities along the coast.
Floridians understand intuitively that clean water, pure air and a healthy environment are the foundation of strong communities and a healthy economy. They’re also part of Florida’s heritage — something that belongs to future generations.
A bipartisan poll in December showed that 84 percent of Floridians — of every conceivable background and political persuasion — think that the money should come back to help the states where the damage was done.
And even in a deeply divided Congress, senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle have come together and agreed on this issue. Nelson emerged as an early champion for the RESTORE Act and he wants his colleagues’ support. Rubio co-sponsored the bill in the Senate, and several Florida representatives are supporting a similar bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.
There’s a lot of self-interest in this bill, but this is what it looks like when elected officials cross the aisle to get a bill done. Yes, it’s been so long since something like this happened that we barely remember what it’s like watching legislative sausage being made.
But time is running out. Congress doesn’t usually pass many laws in election years.
This one is teed up and ready to go, and it is time to get started on the path to Gulf Coast redemption and restoration.
David Yarnold is president and CEO of National Audubon Society.
First published in The Miami Herald 2/11/2012. Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/02/11/2635249/dont-let-bp-fines-paid-for…