WASHINGTON — In an unusual show of bipartisanship, nine Gulf Coast senators joined forces Thursday to introduce a bill that would require at least 80 percent of penalties from last year's BP oil spill paid under the Clean Water Act to be directed to restoration projects in the five Gulf states: Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama and Texas.
"The Deepwater Horizon explosion was a tragedy that took the lives of 11 men and devastated an already fragile coastline," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. "While there are many things that must be done to respond to that horrific incident, the Restore the Gulf Coast Act of 2011 is one of the most important things that needs to be done."
Republican Mississippi Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker support the bill, S1400. It would establish the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund; money would come the civil penalties paid by BP or any other entity found to be responsible in connection with the Deepwater Horizon spill. Landrieu said the fund could total between $5 billion and $20 billion in estimated fines.
The remaining 20 percent would go to the U.S. Treasury. Under current law the Treasury would collect the entire amount.
"The effects of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy still reverberate through Mississippi and other Gulf states," Cochran said in a statement. "This legislation would direct future BP fines to Gulf Coast states, providing the resources they need to continue the process of cleaning up the economic and environmental damage from that disaster."
Wicker, who was at the Capitol press conference with Landrieu, said, "This represents a balanced approach by all Gulf state senators to support economic and environmental restoration, with flexibility for states to choose their own priorities."
Nine of the 10 senators from the five Gulf states — two Democrats and seven Republicans — are original co-sponsors of the bill, with only Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, not signing onto it.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., also attended the press conference to underscore her support for the bill and to promise quick committee action before the summer recess. "We are one nation," Boxer said. "We all enjoy the beauty of these areas."
Six environmental groups issued a joint statement backing the bill.
Under the bill, the five states would equally divide 35 percent of the monies. Sixty percent of the funds would be directed to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, and 5 percent would go to a new Gulf science and fisheries program.
The approach of having the funds redirected to the Gulf was advanced last year by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, in a report he made at the request of President Barack Obama. Earlier this year, the National Oil Spill Commission on the BP oil spill also recommended that at least 80 percent of the money collected in fines be sent to Gulf states for coastal and environmental restoration.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow the latest politics news at McClatchy's Planet Washington