Environmental activists praise U.S. Senator Bill Nelson for RESTORE Act

07/16/12 Janelle Irwin
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A piece of legislation that will bring billions of dollars to Gulf coast communities for restoration efforts was signed by President Obama earlier this month. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson was the lead sponsor of the RESTORE Act and he’s taking his success on the road. At a press conference at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa today, members of the environmental community thanked him for his part in helping make the Gulf of Mexico healthier after the BP oil disaster.

“It’s bi-partisan, it’s well-crafted, compromise that enables us to address the challenges of environmental restoration that follow the Deepwater Horizon tragedy of two years ago. It provides us a means of working throughout the Gulf in restoring our ecosystems.”

That was Manley Fuller, a spokesperson for the Florida Wildlife Federation. He said BP will shell out anywhere between five and $20 billion for restoration efforts. The funds will be divvied among the five Gulf states: Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.

“80% of those will go to the restoration and how they’re spent is determined by the RESTORE Act. Otherwise, those funds would have gone into the general treasury and not been directed to the benefit of the Gulf of Mexico.”

The measure passed the House 373-52 and the Senate 76-22 as an amendment within a broader transportation bill. Besides providing billions to areas affected by the 2010 oil spill, the money will also provide millions in funding for states to conduct ongoing scientific studies of the Gulf and its health. Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, said the bi-partisan effort came at a time when stepping across the aisle doesn’t happen often.

“We’re seeing that against a backdrop of gridlock, of excessive partisanship, excessive ideological rigidity on the matters of the budget and the deficit reduction and what you’re seeing played out in front of us is politics at its worst.”

But he added,

“In the midst of all of that, here is this little bright, shining moment of bi-partisanship.”

Julie Raithmill, director of wildlife conservation for Audubon of Florida is looking forward to being able to restore commercial and recreational fisheries as well as the overall health of the Gulf of Mexico. She said the funding awarded to states as a result of the BP oil spill will help mitigate damage sustained over time, even before the Deepwater Horizon incident.

“The disaster really shattered the illusion for Floridians I think that the Gulf is rugged because while we struggled to staunch the damage from tar balls on our beaches and nests of birds and turtles getting crushed by spill responders, sea grass beds getting scarred or booms running away into marshes, the reality also began to seep into our public consciousness that the Gulf had been in trouble since before the disaster began.”

And Jenny Conner-Nelms, spokesperson for the Nature Conservancy, said it’s also about the economy. The Tampa Bay area came out mostly unscathed by the oil spill. But even though there weren’t large tar balls washing onto beaches in Pinellas County, tourists didn’t know that. And now Nelms said Florida can continue environmental restoration efforts to give that industry another boost.

“We know that healthy reefs and healthy marshes and coastal forests are buffers. We know that oyster reefs are good for economics and they’re good for fisheries and it’s a whole long chain and we hope that this funding can be directed to projects like that.”

Senator Nelson added that the funding wouldn’t just help Floridians. The four other states receiving funding will be taking their own steps to improve the Gulf and that will benefit everyone.

“Louisiana has had its marshes damaged over the years of which there is a significant loss of that marsh which will ultimately have its affect on the Gulf.”

Ongoing negotiations between BP and the federal government are being conducted in Louisiana. If a settlement isn’t reached, a Louisiana federal court will hear the case and determine how much BP will have to pay in damages. If a court rules the oil company was negligent, the fines will be much higher.

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