RESTORE Act will fund research in Florida and other Gulf states

07/05/12 Janelle Irwin
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States affected by the 2010 oil spill will share 80% of the fines BP is ordered to pay. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson celebrated the news in St. Petersburg at USF’s College of Marine Science in front of about 50 people.

Nelson, a Democrat, was one of the sponsors of the RESTORE Act. The measure, which he says President Obama will sign into law tomorrow, defines how money awarded will be divvied among five Gulf States including Florida. Twenty percent will feed the Oil Spill Liability Trust fund. Ninety-five percent of what remains will be used by state, local and federal task forces. How much that will mean for Florida, Nelson says is still unclear.

“We know that there were five million barrels of oil. So, depending on what a judge approves as a result of a settlement or a trial – and there is word that they’re getting close to a settlement between BP and the United States government.”

But there are some estimates on what Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas could expect.

“According to the culpability of the entity that spills – namely BP – a per-barrel penalty will be levied. It is estimated, since 5 million barrels have been spilled, that that penalty could be anywhere from $5 billion to $20 billion.”

Nelson based estimates on a $10 billion penalty which he said would leave states splitting $4 billion. One of Nelson’s aides later said in an email that figure is actually $8 billion. Some of which will be used for marine research.

“What you will now have is a well funded research program not only for the long-term health effects, but also what’s happening to the fish populations so we will know for our recreational fisherman and our commercial fisherman whether or not they will have the fish population in order to fish.”

Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio voted against the legislation but it is considered one of very few bi-partisan efforts during the Obama administration. It passed the U.S. House 373-52. Former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker is glad it passed.

“There is nothing more important for the economy of the state of Florida than the Gulf of Mexico and making sure that its fisheries are healthy for the recreational fisheries, commercial fisheries for our tourism industry and for everything else that touches our state. This is huge and good news.”

Baker, who is vice president for economic development at USF, has good reason to be happy. A small percentage of the money will be given to research institutes the legislation calls centers of excellence. The Florida Institute of Oceanography partners with the USF College of Marine Science and will be receiving some of the funding. USF president Judy Genshaft said the money will be put to good use.

“The future health of the gulf now rests in the resources which can be made available to study the gulf, understand it and protect it. It is heartening to the FIO and its member institutions that good science will guide the gulf’s future.”

Based on Senator Nelson’s $10 billion estimate he said the Florida Institute of Oceanography will get about $50 million. Their director, Bill Hogarth said the organization will start planning how to spend the money today. But for right now he said it will definitely be used to increase studies in the Gulf of Mexico.

“That would give us the effects that we need to know if something else happens to the health of it. It’s not real time stock assessments and the data to do good scientific stock assessments.”

Nelson said whatever funding is allocated to Florida is guaranteed to go directly to the places that need it most.

“But it is pursuant to Florida law, it doesn’t go to the state of Florida. The Florida law is that it goes to the counties along the gulf.”

If BP doesn’t reach a settlement with the federal government, a Louisiana court will decide whether the oil spill was a result of gross negligence. The amount the oil company will be fined will be more if they are found negligent.

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