Coast shouldn’t get whole BP pie
L ast week, the Mississippi Senate overwhelming passed a bill dictating that nearly all of the $750 million the state will receive for economic damages caused by the BP oil spill in 2010 will go to Gulf Coast projects.
Hold on a minute.
Certainly, the Coast was by far the main region to suffer when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and spewed more than 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, damaging wildlife, marring beaches and temporarily devastating both the tourism and fisheries industries.
But the Coast wasn’t the only region to suffer.
When the Coast’s economy took a downturn, it impacted the state’s general fund revenue, which filtered into reductions for all areas of the state. It was admittedly damage to a lesser extent, but it was still damage. There should be at least some small acknowledgment of that in how the $750 million is divvied up.
Remember, the $750 million is not all that BP is paying out to state and local governments. The total settlement, including what the oil company spent on coastal cleanup and restoration in the immediate aftermath of the spill, is about $2.2 billion. Some $1.5 billion of that has already or will be going to the Coast.
Two years ago, a member of the Coast’s legislative delegation, Rep. David Baria, offered a bill that would have allowed up to 20 percent of the $750 million to go to non-coastal areas. That was an equitable proposal that acknowledged other parts of the state deserve at least a small slice of the economic damages.
Whatever legislation is passed, it should not only worry about how the money is divided but how it’s spent. It should stipulate that the settlement funds can only be used for capital improvements, such as road and bridge work or replacing deteriorating water and sewer infrastructure, and not on recurring expenses. The Senate bill is too vague in its language, only saying that the money should be spent on “projects that will benefit the Mississippi Gulf Coast.” Lawmakers should at a minimum specify what exactly qualifies as a “project.”