Eds., producers note: U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) recently shined light on the fact that Treasury was moving slowly on issuing rules regarding how RESTORE Act money is to be distributed to affected Gulf Coast communities. Below is an article about the recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing and a copy of the release Treasury put out today. And here’s a comment from Sen. Nelson on the rules being released:
“You couldn’t spend the BP oil fines until we had these rules,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. “Now that we have them we need to get the money flowing to the affected communities.”
Here’s the Treasury Department’s release:
U.S. Treasury Department
Office of Public Affairs
U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT ISSUES RESTORE ACT RULE TO
HELP AID RECOVERY OF GULF COAST COMMUNITIES
New rule supports environmental and economic restoration of the Gulf Coast region
WASHINGTON – To help further the recovery of communities affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the U.S. Treasury Department today announced that a new rule has been published in the Federal Register for Gulf Coast states and municipalities to receive funding for environmental restoration and economic development projects. The Interim Final Rule outlines grant programs for Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas that were established by the Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States (RESTORE) Act.
“Treasury today took another important step to help the communities, ecosystems, and people of the Gulf Coast as they continue to recover from the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history,” said David Lebryk, Fiscal Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Treasury Department. “With this action, affected states and municipalities can now begin the process of applying for grants from the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund.”
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill released millions of barrels of crude oil in the Gulf waters, and caused extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats, fishing, and tourism. On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed the RESTORE Act into law establishing a trust fund within Treasury with 80 percent of the civil penalties to be paid by parties responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
Under the Interim Final Rule published today, 35 percentof theGulfCoast Restoration Trust Fund isdividedequally amongthefive states forecologicaland economic restoration. In the States of Alabama, Texas, and Mississippi, each will be responsible for obtaining and distributing the funds for the benefit of the Gulf region. The State of Florida’s allocation goes to 23 coastal counties. The State of Louisiana’s allocation will be split between the state and the parishes, with 70 percent for state initiatives and 30 percent for initiatives chosen among 20 coastal parishes. Separately, Treasury recently published a proposed rule that sets out the individual Louisiana parish allocations.
Treasury will also provide grants using 2.5 percent of the trust fund for research centers of excellence that will be selected by the Gulf Coast States. Research centers of excellence will focus on science, technology, and monitoring. In addition to these grant programs, the Interim Final Rule describes requirements for RESTORE Act programs administered by other federal agencies.
Treasury is one of several federal entities working to implement the RESTORE Act. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, a federal entity composed of the five Gulf Coast States and six federal agencies, will use 30 percent of the trust fund for projects selected by the council, and administer grants to the states pursuant to council-approved state expenditure plans using an additional 30 percent. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will use the remaining 2.5 percent of the trust fund for a program focused on advancements in monitoring, observation, and technology. For more information on the RESTORE Act Council, please visit http://www.restorethegulf.gov/.
On September 6, 2013, Treasury published its first proposed rule to implement the Act. Today’s rule builds on Treasury’s ongoing work to implement the RESTORE Act.
To review the Interim Final Rule, please click here. The formal Federal Register webpage will be available on Friday, August 15, 2014 along with program information on the Treasury website.
CONTACT: Treasury Public Affairs, (202) 622-2960
Slow release of oil spill funds frustrates Florida
By Ledyard King
Published: July 29, 2014
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration isn’t moving fast enough to release hundreds of millions of dollars slated to help the Gulf Coast recover from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Florida officials said Thursday.
Congress passed the bipartisan RESTORE Act in 2012, creating a way to distribute billions in civil fines levied against BP and other companies involved in the spill, which befouled coastal beaches, ravaged marine ecosystems and damaged the tourist trade.
But regulations setting up the distribution mechanism have yet to be finalized, leaving communities unable to move forward with plans to improve water quality, rebuild habitats and promote tourism.
“Those of us who wrote and passed this law, we’re impatient. We want to get on with it,” Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida told administration officials at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee hearing Tuesday on the implementation of the two-year-old law. “The message from us to you is, get on with it.”
Justin Ehrenwerth, executive director of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, told lawmakers he expects the Treasury Department to issue rules by the end of the summer that would begin releasing the money. The delays stem from time spent “exploring a number of options to try get money quickly” to communities, he said.
The spill remains the nation’s worst environmental disaster.
In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers and spewing nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf for more than 80 days.
Marine life, including dolphins, died in record numbers and sugar-sand beaches as far away as the Florida Panhandle were matted with tar balls. Vacationers abandoned the region in droves, fearing coastal waters were too unsanitary for fishing or swimming.
The RESTORE (Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies) Act was designed to spell out how the fine money — as much as $21 billion — would be parceled out.
Under the law, 80 percent of any civil and administrative penalties under the Clean Water Act is steered into the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund for ecosystem restoration, economic recovery and tourism promotion in the region. The remaining 20 percent flows into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
Most of that fine money — $5 billion to $20 billion — is expected to come from BP once federal court proceedings conclude.
About $1 billion already has been collected from a settlement with Transocean, which operated the oil rig. That money is sitting in an escrow account until the Treasury Department finishes writing the rule that sets the distribution in motion. That rule also will apply to the BP money when the case is over.
Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson, who chairs the 23-county Florida Gulf Coast Consortium, told the Senate panel it has been frustrating to wait for money that seems tantalizingly close. Even planning for projects is on hold because officials don’t want to commit to project that might not be approved, he said.
“We have essentially been handed an oyster,” Robinson told senators. “However, at this particular time, we have no tool to open the shell. We have no shucking knife, which is the planning dollars, meaning we are unable to really access this wonderful gift.”
Florida has been able to access other spill-related money, including about $100 million from BP under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. But even that has been a challenge to spend, said Mimi Drew, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s designee to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.
“It’s been a long, slow process,” she said.
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson