This week, the Senate passed the RESTORE Act as an amendment to the transportation bill so that the work of restoring the Gulf of Mexico can begin.
The RESTORE Act will direct 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines paid by BP and other responsible parties toward the places in the Gulf where it's needed most. This funding will enable the implementation of a comprehensive ecosystem restoration plan and ensure the future health of the wildlife and the local communities that greatly depend on our ocean.
The RESTORE Act is simply about fairness for the Gulf. The truth is that we are only at the end of the beginning of restoration. We don't even know the full impact of the BP oil disaster yet. What we do know is troubling for the Gulf -- and it's clear that these resources are urgently needed.
Of course, if the bill becomes law, it will be crucial that all of these funds are spent wisely and in the spirit in which they were intended. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida helped ensure that this legislation includes support for a long-term research, monitoring, and ocean observing program that will take the pulse of the Gulf over time. A well-funded and robust science program will help us better understand changes in the ecosystem and develop management solutions that keep the Gulf environment, fisheries and economy healthy. Nelson's fellow Gulf-state senators, Mary Landrieu and Richard Shelby, also played leadership roles in moving this legislation forward.
But it's not just the Gulf region that will benefit from this bipartisan legislation. The amendment also advances funding to protect oceans, coasts and valuable inland habitat across the country. Funding was included for the National Endowment for the Ocean, a program developed by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Olympia Snowe to protect all of America's ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems. This endowment uses a portion of the interest from BP's fines to fund work that protects ocean health, and ultimately economic health. While the vast majority of the fines the responsible parties must pay will be rightly directed to the Gulf Coast region, this program will promote the environmental and economic prosperity of all of America's coastal waters and Great Lakes.
In addition, many of America's special places and natural resources will receive funding under the RESTORE Act amendment. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid helped ensure broad support for the legislation by including provisions for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which protects important land and water areas throughout the country.
With the Senate's passage of the transportation bill this week, the RESTORE Act has cleared a major hurdle with overwhelming bipartisan support -- a 76-22 vote. The House has already voted on an amendment to direct BP's fines to the Gulf. Now that the RESTORE Act has such momentum, it's vital that Congress passes the Senate version of this bill and sends it to the President's desk as soon as possible so that the important work of restoring our Gulf can continue.
The RESTORE Act does what's fair and right for the Gulf. This legislation is moving forward because of a catastrophic oil disaster, and the anticipated funds will be generated because those responsible are being held accountable. In fact, passing this bill would provide some certainty for those involved in settlement negotiations right now. Once this legislation is put into action, our ability to protect our coasts, the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico will take a huge step forward.
Follow Dennis Takahashi-Kelso on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@OurOcean