Under its provisions, 80 percent of the fines collected under the Clean Water Act from the companies responsible for the 2010 BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill will be divided among the Gulf Coast states that were most directly affected. That’s good news for Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.
It is estimated that the fines, which are being negotiated, will be between $5 billion and $21 billion. It also is estimated that Alabama will get around 20 percent of the settlement.
Even on the lower end of the scale, that is a lot of money.
According to the Clean Water Act, the fines will go for coastal restoration and economic development projects for the region. That means that Baldwin and Mobile counties are in for a windfall. It “will change our world” was how Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon put it.
What changes will come will be the subject of considerable and no doubt heated debate.
On one hand there will be the mayors, city councils, county commissioners and tourism-development officials who will want to put the money into (according to Kennon) “long-term, revenue-producing projects, economic development or infrastructure.” That’s the sort of things coastal politicians and businessmen have salivated over for years.
On the other hand will be groups like the Mobile Baykeeper that want, according to its director Casi Callaway, “real and significant restoration of our environment and, therefore, our economy.”
Note that both sides stress that their approach will be good for Alabama’s economy. The difference is on how this will be accomplished.
And then there are those, like Gov. Robert Bentley, who would like at least some of the money to go to projects with a direct statewide impact, like building a new lodge and conference center at Alabama Gulf State Park, one of the state’s most popular tourism attractions.
Sen. Richard Shelby, who worked hard to get this legislation passed, noted that the money will go directly to the communities affected by the spill, and that they will control how it is spent.
This is fine as long as the communities spend it, as Shelby recommends, “through local, accountable officials and a transparent process.” This page would add that special care should be taken to make sure that all of Alabama’s coastal interests — business, tourism, the seafood industry and environmental organizations — are involved every step of the way.
These interests overlap, and one should not be favored over another.