Castor: Oil Spill Money Should Stay in Gulf
|Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-Tampa)|
Recent reports have shown much of the money coming from BP to help clean up the Gulf oil spill has gone to companies far away from the Gulf Coast. Now, one local member of Congress wants to make sure the money stays closer to home.
Last week, Bloomberg News reported surfaced that the federal government gave most of the BP oil-spill response contracts to a state more renowned for clam chowder than grouper sandwiches.
The federal Commerce Department confirmed that companies based in Massachusetts received twice as much money in federal oil spill contracts than all the Gulf Coast states combined.
Now, a bill being introducted by Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor aims to keep that recovery work in the Gulf.
"We know that BP is going to pay significant penalties and fines for the pollution and the environmental damage that they have caused," Castor said. "Under current law, there's no guarantee that those funds will actually go to the Gulf Coast. They go to the oil spill trust fund."
Castor calls her bill the Gulf of Mexico Environmental and Recovery Act. Her bill would give 80 percent of BP's penalties and fines to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. It would spend the money based on plans developed by officials in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Castor wants grants promoting tourism and seafood in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Some of the money would go toward research. Castor calls the $10 million given from BP to Florida universities to do research on the effects of the spill on the Gulf's marine life "a drop in the bucket" and said much more is needed for research efforts.
"We've got to recover our economy, we've got to recover the environment, and we've got to provide the funds necessary for long-term scientific research," she said.
Her calls were echoed by Bob Weisberg, an oceanographer at USF's College of Marine Science.
"We can have the tools in place if there's ever another environmental consequence like the one that we've just suffered, that we could do a much better job of predicting where the oil will go, thinking about how to clean it up, think about whether the use of dispersants was a good idea, a bad idea," Weisberg said. "All of these things require long-term, scientifically-defensible research projects that must be nurtured, and must be funded, and this bill will provide that."
The bill would nurture tourism, too. Keith Overton is chief operating officer of the Tradewinds Resort in St. Pete Beach. It suffered mass cancellations over the summer - even while the oil stayed hundreds of miles away. He says the Tradewinds has lost more than a million dollars in lost bookings over the past six months.
And Overton says many hotels that have filed claims haven't gotten any money from BP's settlement fund.
"What's frustrating to me today is that still today, I see ads from BP on television promoting that they're doing the right thing," Overton said. "And they haven't done the right thing. They haven't paid the business community back, they haven't paid the states involved back, and they're very slow to process claims."
The bill also would give 60 percent of the money based on the length of a state's Gulf coastline. That would give Florida the lion's share of the funding. The rest would be based on the number of people who live along the Gulf.
But before anything can happen, the bill will have to go through the gauntlet of a Congress shifting from blue to red. There is no co-sponsor in the Senate, and Castor says she will approach both Sen. Bill Nelson and Sen.-Elect Marco Rubio to climb onboard.
©2015 WUSF. All rights reserved.