Federal Gulf Coast spill recovery efforts inch forward

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Government-sponsored recovery efforts that followed the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are slowly accelerating, federal officials and coastal communities say.

Billions in civil fines paid by BP remain undistributed as lawyers wrangle in court. States are still drawing up priority lists of projects for funding. And a total damage assessment of the spill that spewed nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf over 84 days is at least two years away, the Shreveport Times reported.

But key elements of the Restore Act, which directs as much as $21 billion in BP fine money to the five Gulf Coast states, are beginning to take shape, according to witnesses at a hearing Thursday before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Under a plea agreement reached earlier this year, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation received more than $2.5 billion in oil spill money to pay for environmental mitigation projects during the next several years. Half of the money will be spent in Louisiana, which suffered the most damage. Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, would get 14 percent of the funds, and Texas would get 8 percent.

More recently, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees, one of three groups overseeing the distribution of funds, said it will spend as much as $600 million of the $1 billion BP has agreed to provide for restoration efforts.

Communities are identifying projects they want financed.

Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, the Restore Act’s chief sponsor, said the money could be a game-changer for the Gulf.

“While the accident was horrific — we lost a lot of men on rigs, [and] families and communities are still suffering — it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use these penalty monies to jump-start some of these very needed restoration projects, not only for the benefit of our five states but for the entire nation that depends on this extraordinary working coast,” she said at the hearing.

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