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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Gulf Restoration Bill – A No Brainer for Congress?

Air Date: Week of

Author Paul Greenberg believes Democrats and Republicans in Congress have a chance to put their differences aside and come together on an upcoming environmental bill. The legislation would mandate the federal government to use BP Gulf oil spill penalties to help restore the Gulf ecosystem.


GELLERMAN: Well, Congress is back in session. And after months of mudslinging, showdowns and standoffs, you might not expect lawmakers will get much done. But commentator Paul Greenberg believes there’s an important environmental bill that's coming up... where Republicans and Democrats could find common ground.

GREENBERG: After scoring a resounding F during last July’s miserable debt ceiling fight, Senate and House members are stumbling back from their summer vacation, desperate for an easy A. And actually, there’s one waiting for them if they want it - bobbing in plain sight in the legislative waters in the wake of the BP oil spill.

You see, the Federal Clean Water Act, the instrument that the government is using to exact fines from BP, has one tricky problem - oil spillers must pay anywhere from 1,100 to 4,300 dollars for every barrel of oil spilled. But, the Clean Water Act doesn’t really stipulate where that money should go, or how it should be spent.

What that means, is that the possibly 20 billion dollars BP is supposed to pay in fines could simply disappear into the morass that is the federal government’s 3.8 trillion dollar annual budget. Fortunately, the ultimate do-nothing Congress has a chance to do something smart about this. Bill S-1400 that will go before legislators this fall, has the simple goal to mandate the federal government to use the BP oil spill damages to actually fix the Gulf. And boy, is that money needed!

In addition to cleanup, the Gulf needs massive programs to restore the regions marshes - marshes which are now disappearing at a rate of 1.5 Manhattans a year. It needs work to rebuild barrier islands that protect the shorelines from hurricanes. And, it needs a huge investment to restore the billions of oysters that were lost during last year’s spill.

And what’s great about this particular piece of legislation is that it probably wouldn’t cost the taxpayer anything, while at the same time creating important economic benefits in the form of rebuilt fisheries, safer shorelines and cleaner ecosystems. Maybe this is why both Tea Partiers and Democrats like this bill!

A recent poll of 1,000-plus likely voters, conducted by Lake Research Partners, showed broad bipartisan support for using BP funds to restore the Gulf. And so, Congress, still sitting in the corner with the dunce caps on after getting the lowest public opinion ratings in history, has a chance to come back and score an easy A. Lets hope they don’t find a new and innovative way to flunk out.

GELERMAN: Commentator Paul Greenberg. His latest book is “Four Fish – The Future of the Last Wild Food.” It’s now available in paperback.



Bill S. 1400 Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf States Act of 2011

Paul Greenberg’s “Four Fish” website


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