Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

BP Fines Could Be Boon for Florida

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

BP Fines Could Be Boon for Florida

Article excerpt

TAMPA

NEW LAW: Most money for spill damage to go to Gulf states, not U.S. Treasury

Florida avoided the worst of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill two years ago, but could reap billions of dollars from environmental fines levied against the British oil company.

A new federal law requires that 80 percent of the U.S. Clean Water Act penalties that BP pays for the spill go for environmental and economic restoration of the Gulf of Mexico and its surrounding coastline.

With the potential federal fines ranging from $5 billion to $21 billion -- and unofficial reports that BP is ready to settle for $15 billion -- the amount Florida receives is expected to be substantial.

The money could provide the Sunshine State with a boost to its struggling economy by shoring up tourism in the oil-tarnished Panhandle; supporting commercial fishermen all the way to Cortez in Manatee County; and bolstering the health of oyster reefs, sea grasses, corals, marshes and mangrove swamps as far south at the Florida Keys.

One recent study by the Walton Family Foundation and Mather Economics LLC showed that restoring wetlands alone creates about 30 jobs for every $1 million spent.

"Today is a great day for the Gulf of Mexico," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, at a press conference held with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in front of a large fish tank at the Florida Aquarium.

With sharks, a sea turtle and dozens of different fish swimming in the background, Fuller said the BP money will ensure that "the abundance you see behind us not only survives, but thrives into the future."

The new legislation, called the Restore Act, amends the Clean Water Act, similar to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which set up a $500 million oil spill response trust fund after the Exxon-Valdez spill.

Under oil pollution laws, violators must pay a certain amount of money per barrel of oil spilled into public waters. …

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