Gulf of Mexico needs bipartisan help
The Restore Act is the rare piece of congressional legislation that is receiving bipartisan support during these political divisive days — with good reason. The measure would ensure that 80 percent of the fines paid for the BP oil spill under the Clean Water Act could be used to restore the Gulf of Mexico, which suffered severe environmental and economic damage. It's estimated the spill of 4.9 million barrels will generate between $5 billion to $21 billion in fines, money that could be put to good use repairing the Gulf, which has been badly neglected for decades. Much would go toward studying and restoring the areas damaged by the oil, which persists in many areas. But the money could also be used to improve the overall health of the much-abused resource, which still accounts for a third of the nation's seafood.Indeed, the Gulf is infamous for an 8,000-square mile "Dead Zone," where the nutrients dumped by the Mississippi River have created a polluted, lifeless region that threatens the Gulf's critical fishing industry. Republicans and Democrats alike in Gulf states are solidly behind the measure. Regrettably, some lawmakers want to hijack the funds and use them elsewhere. It would be an injustice to divert the money from the region that suffered from the spill and still needs assistance. Investing the fines where the damage happened would do more than repair the environment. The act would fund the development of a comprehensive plan to improve the Gulf's health, develop flood and erosion projects, restore the coast and promote tourism. One study estimated that every $1 million invested in environmental restoration work creates 20 jobs. But this is not a make-work bill. It is a genuine effort to revive the Gulf of Mexico, which helps sustains the economies of surrounding states. The investment would boost economic growth. Some legislative improvements likely can be made. One of the concerns of Hillsborough Rep. Kathy Castor is that the act does not sufficiently fund Gulf-wide research and recovery. A few revisions may be necessary, but the Restore Act would ensure Clean Water Act fines were used appropriately, rescuing a critical national resource and a vital economic engine.