Coastal restoration advocates are up in arms over an amendment inserted into a bill that would direct fines paid by BP and other companies linked to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill to the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund. House Bill 812 by Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, was amended Tuesday by the Senate Finance Committee to allow state lawmakers to siphon off the penalty money for virtually anything, provided that diversion of cash is approved by two thirds of each chamber of the Legislature:
The legislature, by a favorable vote of two-thirds of the elected members of each house, may authorize the expenditures of monies received by the state under the provisions of this paragraph for any purposes not prohibited by this constitution or by Congress. Any such authorization shall be approved by passage of a specific legislative instrument which clearly states the purposes for which the monies will be expended.
The bill as amended is before the full Senate, and opponents of the amendment argue it sends the wrong message to the U.S. Congress, which is reportedly close to passing the RESTORE Act, a bill that would send 80 percent of any Clean Water Act fines levied for the BP spill to the five Gulf Coast states.
On Thursday Blueprint Louisiana, a statewide good-government group comprising civic and business leaders, chimed its concern with the amendment:
While Blueprint is on record for supporting budget flexibility measures allowed by current state law, there are limited circumstances when a dedication is necessary. The Deepwater Horizon incident is one such instance, where the impact was on the coast and where we must demonstrate our commitment to restoration in order to maximize the benefit to Louisiana. The language of the Congressional RESTORE Act dedicates fines from BP and other responsible parties to coastal restoration. We should honor Congress’ wishes as well as our commitment to Louisiana’s coastal communities to ensure that this money is used to rebuild our coast.Chris Macaluso, coastal outreach coordinator for the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, issued a press release following the Senate Finance action urging lawmakers to rethink the amendment:
We now have a comprehensive master plan for our coast. Let’s show the rest of the nation we can deliver on that plan with money resulting from any environmental fines and violations from the Deepwater Horizon incident. Thank you for your service.
It essentially derails the intent of the legislation...
This amendment sends absolutely the wrong message to Congress, particularly at a time when the RESTORE Act is being considered and is so close to passage. Louisiana’s message to Congress needs to be clear and specific that Clean Water Act penalty money will be spent on coastal restoration and on nothing else. In my extensive talks with congressmen and congressional staff regarding RESTORE, the biggest concern about passing such a powerful piece of legislation was mistrust that Louisiana’s Legislature would do the right thing with the money.
This amendment, to what is otherwise a very good piece of legislation and a good constitutional amendment, confirms those fears. Some legislators want to get their hands on this money and spend it on whatever whim or budget hole that needs to be filled.