Teaming up for the coast
It was encouraging to see Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marc Rubio team up on behalf of legislation that would require most of the penalties collected from last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill to go toward the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico and bolstering coastal economies. The measure also underscores the value of the Clean Water Act, which is under attack in Congress. The Clean Water Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to collect fines from parties responsible for an oil spill, which is appropriate, given the extravagant public costs caused by the spills. But there is no guarantee the collected penalties will go to the areas damaged by a spill.The bipartisan bill introduced Thursday would create the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, which would be funded by 80 percent of the penalties paid by BP and other companies involved in the spill. The money would go to the five affected states — Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas — to support economic recovery and environmental restoration efforts. The measure would give the states the flexibility to spend the money where it is needed. The bill also would, wisely, establish a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which would develop a comprehensive plan for the ecological welfare of the gulf. And thanks largely to Nelson, the legislation will set up a science and fisheries endowment to support research on the ecological health of the gulf and its fisheries. While Nelson has long been a champion of Florida's coast, Rubio has appeared less committed. He criticized the prudent delay in gulf drilling expansion the president ordered after the oil spill. But Rubio stood tall this week on behalf of the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act, which deserves speedy adoption. "Redirecting the fine money paid by BP under the Clean Water Act is a logical policy that will help the states affected by this disaster continue rebuilding their businesses and their lives," he said. Nelson was even more direct, saying the investment in the Gulf Coast "makes sense, because that's where the BP oil spill painted beaches and wetlands black and messed up the fishing and tourism industries." Florida's senators, regardless of political party, have always worked together to protect the state's invaluable beaches and maintain a reasonable buffer from oil drilling. We hope Rubio's stand this week indicates that Florida will be able to continue to count on both its U.S. senators to defend the coastal economy and environment.